Thursday, 5 November 2020

Finding another family
link with Wexford town
over a century ago

The Dun Mhuire Theatre, South Main Street, Wexford … now closed but once an RUC barracks and the home of my great-uncle and his family

Patrick Comerford

As I was walking around Wexford during my recent return visit two months ago (2-3 September 2020), I was very happy to have in my hands Nicky Rossiter’s book, Main Street, Heart of Wexford (Stroud: History Press, 2018).

In the early and mid-1970s, I had lived on High Street, but worked on Main Street, went to church there, spent time at back-room meetings in smoke-filled rooms in the Corish Memorial Hall, had my bank account, and was more than familiar with the Tower Bar and the coffee shop and bars in White’s Hotel. I was also on the committee of the YMCA beside White’s, where I organised many poetry readings and folk sessions.

While I was living on High Street, I joked that I was only a stone throw from houses on John Street where members of many previous generations of the Comerford family had lived before me.

I was confident about my Comerford family links with Wexford, and – although I was born in Dublin – this was home for me, and I feel was back at home every time I go back.

But Nicky Rossiter’s book made me ask was there was another family connection with Wexford apart from the Comerford family links.

In Main Street, Heart of Wexford, Nicky Rossiter says on p 102: ‘Over the centuries Main Street has lost many established businesses and the families associated with them. These included: Holbrook; Lelly; Timpson; Ousalem (domestic servant); Kalisher (bazaar manager); Lively (bazaar assistant); Boleyn (housekeeper); Lynders; Mokely (domestic servant); Hummer; Cootey; Shudall and Cruise (grocer’s assistant).’

I searched, and I searched. I had found no Lynders family connection with Wexford in recent years. But the name is unusual enough, and for the past two months I was wondering what the connection.

The on-line index for the 1911 census was not helpful either: an Allen Lynders appeared, but I knew of no Allen Lynders in my grandmother’s family about a century ago.

And there it rested, or so it seemed. That was until an email conversation and exchanges earlier this week with a cousin who is the true genealogist in the Lynders family.

My grandmother, Bridget Lynders (1875-1948), was the second of five children of Patrick and Margaret (McMahon) Lynders of The Quay House, Portrane, Co Dublin, and married my grandfather, Stephen Edward Comeford (1867-1921), in Donabate on 7 February 1905.

But my conversations earlier this week led me to the story of her elder brother, John Lynders (1873-1957), my great-uncle, who was a sergeant in the Royal Irish Constabulary in the difficult years in the first quarter of the 20th century.

John Lynders, who was two years older than my grandmother, was born in Portane on 11 January 1873. He joined the Royal Irish Constabulary (56897), became a Sergeant in the RIC and was later a Head Constable. He married Mary Ellen Reardon (1881-1963) from Fermoy, Co Cork.

John Lynders was living at the RIC Barracks, South Main Street, Wexford, when his children were born in 1908 and 1911, and at the time of the 1911 census. The name of John Lynders is given incorrectly as Allen Lynders in the online index to the 1911 census and their daughter Eileen Mary as Aileen M. But John is registered separately, a normal procedure for the police at the 1901 and 1911 census, and I had found it difficult to identify this Lynders family in Wexford – my grandmother’s brother and my father’s uncle, aunt and cousins.

These were difficult times for members of the RIC in those early decades of the 20th century. I have written in recent month (29 July 2020) of the scandalous events surrounding the murder in the Bullring on 7 May 1910, when 18-year-old Mary Anne Wilde was murdered by Simon Bloom – an event that is said to have influenced some of the characters created by James Joyce in Ulysses.

But 1911 was an even more harrowing year in the history of Wexford town. This was the year of the Wexford lockout, eclipsed in size only by the lockout in Dublin in 1913. Doyle’s Selskar Ironworks were the first to lock out their men on Monday 10 August 1911. A little over a fortnight later, Pierce’s locked out close to 400 men, while the Hearns, proprietors of Wexford Engineering, locked out nearly 200 men on 29 August.

The most serious incident occurred in September, when Michael O’Leary, on his way to buy groceries, got caught up in a baton charge on Bride Street between workers and the police. He received repeated blows to his head and died from his injuries five days later.

The lockout ended with settlement in February 1912 that allowed for the formation of the Irish Foundry Workers’ Union as an associate of the ITGWU. The foundry men, skilled and unskilled, could combine and return to work – all except for Richard Corish (1886-1945), who was blacklisted by the employers. He became a full-time trade union official and was Mayor of Wexford (1920-1945) and Labour TD for Wexford (1921-1945).

The 1911 Lockout memorial in Wexford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

John Lynders was a sergeant in the RIC in Wexford during those turbulent times. His wife Ellen returned to Fermoy for the birth of their two children – Eileen Margaret on 19 January 1908, and Patrick Joseph Lynders on 28 September 1911. But they continued to live in the RIC Barracks on South Main Street, Wexford.

This building was originally the Wexford townhouse of Richard Devereux, one of the great shipowners in 19th century Wexford. Richard Joseph Devereux (1829-1883) was a Liberal MP for Wexford (1865-1872) while his brother, John Thomas Devereux, was MP for Wexford (1847-1857) before him.

The Devereux brothers were merchant princes in Victorian Wexford, and Richard Devereux owned one of the largest fleets of sailing ships in Ireland, bringing the first cargo of Indian corn to Wexford during the Famine.

When Richard Devereux died in 1883, the reliquary of Saint Adjutor, which he had received as a gift from Pope Pius IX and brought to Wexford in 1856, was moved from his house to the Franciscan Friary. The waxen figure of boy martyr is now enshrined in a glassed, enclosed reliquary at the back of the Friary Church in Wexford.

At the same time, Devereux’s townhouse became a presbytery for the Catholic priests of Wexford in 1883. When they moved to the presbytery in School Street in 1893, it became the RIC barracks.

John Lynders was a sergeant in Duncannon, Co Wexford, by 1917, and was later transferred from Wexford to Ballymahon, Co Longford (1919-1922), where he was a Head Constable. Just 100 years ago, on 18 August 1920, an IRA group led by Seán Mac Eoin and Seán Connolly, raided the RIC barracks in Ballymahon and captured 10 rifles, four revolvers, 12 grenades and ammunition.

After the dissolution of the RIC, John Lynders returned to live in Dublin. He was living at 7 Ontario Terrace, Portobello, when he died on 13 November 1957, aged 84. His widow Mary was living at 7 Ontario Terrace when she died on 13 May 1963, aged 82.

As for the RIC Barracks in Wexford, when the RIC was dissolved at the formation of the Irish Free State in 1922, the Garda Siochana took over. When the Gardai moved into their then new station in Roche’s Road, the building was used by the Legion of Mary and the Catholic Girls’ Club from 1938.

The Dun Mhuire Theatre was opened there by Bishop James Staunton of Ferns on Sunday 4 December 1960, followed by a concert with Veronica Dunne, Michael Murphy and the Artane Boys’ Band.

The Dun Mhuire Theatre was at the heart of cultural life and entertainment in Wexford Town for decades. The Wexford Drama Festival, established in 1963, the year was staged at the Dun Mhuire Theatre every year for 56 years until last year. Initially it was devised as a source of entertainment during Lent, when dances did not take place in the hall, giving the local community an outlet and keeping the Dun Mhuire in use. The festival regularly welcomed 250 theatre goers for each show, with 300 or 350 people on opening and closing nights.

The theatre was also a venue for Christmas pantomime, the Light Opera Society, and other groups. Dun Mhuire has made an important contribution to the social and artistic fabric of Wexford town. Other groups who used the theatre on a day-to-day basis included Alcoholics Anonymous, the Girl Guides, the Confraternity Band and the Legion of Mary.

The Wexford Drama Festival recently moved its home to the Jerome Hynes Theatre at the National Opera House, formerly the Theatre Royal, on High Street.

The Dun Mhuire Theatre is now closed and is said to be in a serious state of disrepair. The theatre is owned by the Parish of Wexford and in recent years there have been reports of plans to sell the theatre to Wexford County Council as part of part of plans for the redevelopment in the South Main Street and Crescent Quay area and the Trinity Wharf Development.

The Dun Mhuire Theatre was at the heart of cultural life and entertainment in Wexford Town for 56 years

Update 11 November 2020, to include reference to Duncannon

The Meade building dynasty
in Victorian Dublin and their
family roots in Co Limerick

Mount Saint Michael at No 1 Ailesbury Road, Dublin, once the home of the Meade family and Saint Michael’s College

Patrick Comerford

The Meade family was among of the great building contractors and housing developers in Victorian Dublin, developing many of the houses in the Ballsbridge area, and involved in work on some of the great Gothic Revival churches designed by Pugin, Ashlin and McCarthy.

This Dublin ‘dynasty’ of builders and developers traces its roots to Kilcornan, near Askeaton, Co Limerick and to Michael Meade (1814-1886), who was a prominent building contractor from the late 1840s until he died in Dublin in the mid-1880s.

Michael Meade was born ca 1813/1814 in Kilbreedy, between Stonehall and Curraghchase, about 5 km east of Askeaton, Co Limerick.

Meade tfirst rained as a carpenter in the Kilcornan area before moving from Co Limerick to Dublin in his early 20s. In Dublin, he built up his own business, setting up a large sawing, planing and moulding mills in premises on Great Brunswick Street, now Pearse Street.

His business quickly earned a reputation for high-skilled work, and Meade worked from 178 Townsend Street (1847), 17 Westland Row (1853-1858), 152-159 Great Brunswick Street (1863), and 153-159 Great Brunswick Street, ca 1874-ca 1883.

Over three or four decades, Meade and Sons built much of the area between Ballsbridge and Merrion Square. In the 1860s, Meade began developing Ailesbury Road, where he built Shrewsbury House, later the Belgian Embassy, and Mount Saint Michael, later Saint Michael’s College.

Mount Saint Michael, on the corner of Ailesbury Road and Merrion Road, was built ca 1868 became the Meade family home. It was said to have been modelled on Osborne, Queen Victoria’s house on the Isle of Wight.

Meade had taken his son Joseph Michael Meade into partnership by 1871, and around this time Michael Meade became a Justice of the Peace for Dublin.

The Meade family also built many Roman Catholic parish churches designed by Ashlin, Pugin and McCarthy. Their church contracts included the Augustinian Church of Saint Augustine and Saint John the Baptist or ‘John’s Lane Church’ (Pugin and Ashlin, 1862-1874), described by John Ruskin as ‘a poem in stone’, and the church at Mount Argus (McCarthy, 1866-1878), as well as Saint Patrick’s Church, Monkstown (1861), the Church of the Sacred Heart, Donnybrook (1864) and the Church of the Annunciation, Rathfarnham (Ashlin, 1879).

Meade’s other works included the O’Connell Monument and Vault (1851-1869), Glasnevin Cemetery; the Gaeity Theatre, Dublin; Dun Laoghaire Town Hall (1878-1880), designed by John Loftus Robinson (ca 1848-1894) in the style of a Venetian palace; Saint Mary’s Psychiatric Hospital (1863-1866), Galway Road, Ennis, Co Clare; and Saint Colman’s Cathedral (Pugin and Ashlin, 1867-1878), Cobh, Co Cork.

Dún Laoghaire Town Hall, a fine example of the Venetian-style Victorian architecture, designed by JL Robinson and built by Michael Meade (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Meade’s reputation survived the potential damage cause by the Phoenix Park murders on 6 May 1882, when the Chief Secretary, Lord Frederick Cavendish, and the Under Secretary, Thomas Henry Burke, were murdered in Dublin.

The murders were carried out by the ‘Invincibles,’ a dissident Republican faction founded by James Carey (1845-1893), who had been a bricklayer in Meade’s building firm for 18 years.

Michael Meade married his first wife Mary Ann Ryan ca 1837/1838. They were parents of five children:

1, Joseph Michael Meade (1839-1900)
2, Edward John Meade (1840-1907)
3, Michael Thomas Meade (1843-1885), who married (1) Maria Gavin on 29 June 1869, and (2) Annie Hynes.
4, Bridget Meade (born 1845)
5, Daniel O’Connell Meade (1848-1930)

Michael Meade married his second wife Bridget Ashe in 1850. They were parents of:

6, David Peter Ashe Meade (1851-1877)
7, John Francis Meade (1852-1879)
8, Francis Bernard Meade (1856-1882), who lived in New York
9, Thomas Patrick Meade (1858-1933), who lived in England

Michael Meade died on 24 May 1886, aged 72. His second wife Bridget died on 28 July 1886, aged 65. The family vault at Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin includes an image of Saint Michael standing guard over Michael Meade and his family.

Saint Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh, Co Cork … built by Michael Meade in 1867-1878 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Michael Meade’s eldest son, Joseph Michael Meade (1839-1900), continued the family’s business of building contractor. He was born in 1839, was educated at Trinity College Dublin, and was a partner in his father’s fast-expanding business, Meade & Son, by 1871.

After his father’s death, Joseph Michael Meade continued to build up the family business until it employed about 900 men. He worked from 153-159 Great Brunswick Street ca 1874 to ca 1883.

He was one of the most significant builders in late Victorian Dublin, and his contracts included the masonry for the Loop Line railway, Bray Catholic church, the Convent of the Little Sisters of the Poor on the South Circular Road, and Guinness’s printing works.

Meade was a Parnellite Nationalist in politics. He was elected to Dublin Corporation on 25 November 1886 as alderman for the Trinity Ward. He was High Sheriff of Dublin in 1889 and Lord Mayor of Dublin twice, in 1891 and 1892. Meade was awarded an honorary doctorate (LL.D) by Trinity College Dublin in 1892 and became a member of the Privy Council for Ireland in 1893.

Meade is credited with first putting forward the idea of inviting Queen Victoria to Ireland for a fourth visit, which took place on 3-27 April 1900.

He was chairman of the Hibernian Bank, and a director of the London Liverpool & Globe Insurance Co, Boland’s Ltd, the Ocean Accident Guarantee Corporation and the Dublin Port and Docks Board. He was also president of the Dublin Master Builders’ Association in the 1890s.

Meade was also a major owner of multi-tenanted tenement buildings in Dublin city. These buildings are now considered to have be ‘slums.’ Many still exist, such as Henrietta Street, but many more were demolished during the 20th century. Yet he also represented Dublin Corporation on a commission set up to inquire into the causes of the high death rate in Dublin.

Meade was married twice. He married (1) in 1870, Katherine Josephine Carvill, a daughter of William Carvill of Rathgar House, Orwell Road (later the Bethany Home, and later the Orwell Lodge Nursing Home), a builder and developer who built large parts of suburban Rathgar; and (2) in 1887, Ada Louise Willis, a daughter of Dr Thomas Willis of Dublin.

Kate and Joseph Meade were the parents of one daughter:

1, Mary Josephine, who married Thomas C Ross on 8 June 1898.

Ada and Joseph Meade were the parents of four children:

2, Thomas George Meade, born 23 January 1888
3, Joseph Michael Meade, born 28 August 1889, a barrister in 1920
4, Kathleen Mary Meade, born in 1891 in the Mansion House, Dublin, when Joseph Meade was Lord Mayor of Dublin
5, Michael Meade, born 31 December 1895

Joseph Meade lived at 153 Rathgar Road ca 1874-1875, at 19 Ailesbury Road (1883), and at Mount Saint Michael, Ailesbury Road, from ca 1896 until his death. He died at home, suddenly, on 14 July 1900, three months after Queen Victoria’s final visit to Ireland, which he had promoted. He was buried three days later at Glasnevin Cemetery, close to the O’Connell Memorial he was involved in building.

Mount Saint Michael at No 1 Ailesbury Road was a substantial property. The house had 21 rooms in 1901, when it was the home of Alderman Joseph Meade’s widow Ada. In the 1940s, the house has become Saint Michael’s College, Ailesbury Road.

Kathleen Mary Meade was born in the Mansion House, Dublin, in 1891 when her father Joseph Meade was Lord Mayor of Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)