Wednesday, 14 April 2021

A failed search for
a forgotten family
chapel built by Pugin

Saint Canice’s Church, Clough, Co Laois … designed by AWN Pugin’s son-in-law, George Coppinger Ashlin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

I recently tried to resume my Pugin trial, in search of AWN Pugin’s works across Ireland, and visited the pretty village of Clough in Co Laois.

Clough – often spelled Clogh – is a small and pretty village with thatched cottages in the south-west Co Laois, close to Rathdowney, Ballybrophy and Aghaboe. It is pronounced Clough as in ‘clock’ – and not ‘Cluff’ as in Brian Clough. It can be difficult to find today because it has been squeezed in recent years between the junction of the M7 and M8 without direct access from either motorway.

Clough is a pretty village squeezed between the M7 and M8 motorway junction (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

I had read that two years before his death, Pugin was commissioned by the FitzPatrick family to design a new mortuary chapel in Clough in 1852. The new mortuary or chantry chapel was commissioned by John Wilson FitzPatrick (1811-1883), 1st Lord Castletown.

FitzPatrick, an old Etonian, was a Liberal politician and MP for Queen’s County (Laois) on three occasions (1837-1841, 1847-1852, 1865-1869), until he became a peer with the title of Lord Castletown in 1869.

FitzPatrick was known as John Wilson from his birth until 1842, when he changed his name to FitzPatrick in order to inherit his father’s estates of Grantstown Manor and Lisduff in Co Laois. He was the illegitimate son of John Fitzpatrick (1745-1818), 2nd Earl of Upper Ossory, and Mrs Elizabeth Wilson, and, while he inherited his father’s estate, he could not inherit his title, and so was given the title of Baron Castletown of Upper Ossory.

A FitzPatrick grave in Bordwell, near Clough … but where was the FitzPatrick mortuary chapel? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Lord Castletown commissioned Pugin to design a family mausoleum or chantry chapel in Clough in 1852. After Pugin’s death in 1854, the chapel was supervised and completed by JJ McCarthy. The building work was carried out by William Haughton Beardwood.

Beardwood was a builder from Lancashire and, like Pugin, he had become a Roman Catholic. He was active as a builder in Dublin from the 1820s until his death in 1860, working from Townsend Street, Great Brunswick Street and Westland Row.

Beardwood married Catherine M Teeling and they were the parents of six children. Three of their sons became architects: William Henry Beardwood, John Francis Beardwood and Joseph Beardwood, who later became a Cistercian monk as Dom Camillus and eventually Abbot of Mount Saint Joseph Abbey, Roscrea.

I searched in vain for Pugin’s mausoleum in Clough, only to learn later that the chapel has been long demolished. Instead, in my search around Clough, I came across both the church ruins at Bordwell and Saint Canice’s Catholic Church in Clough, which was designed by Pugin’s son-in-law, George Coppinger Ashlin (1837-1921).

Although the Roman Catholic parish of Clough is known as Aghaboe, the village is both the parishes of Aghaboe and Bordwell, at a point where the two civil parishes meet.

The mediaeval church ruins in Bordwell (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

I first went in search of the FitzPatrick mausoleum in the old churchyard at Bordwell, outside Clough, on the site of an earlier ecclesiastical foundation. Bordwell is in the Barony of Upper Ossory, which gave its name to some of the titles held by the FitzPatrick family.

Bordwell church and graveyard is in rural area, surrounded by low lying pastureland. The site includes the ruins of a mediaeval church.

The church at Bordwell was granted to the Augustinians of Saint Thomas’s Abbey, Dublin, by Thomas de Hereford in the 13th century. This is a nave and chancel church, built of roughly coursed limestone, with a pointed arch doorway in the west end of the south wall, and a round arch doorway opposite in the north wall.

The church at Bordwell was in ruins by the early 19th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The ruins consist of upstanding walls with two arched doorways, and measures about 20 metres by 8 metres. There is a levelled mound of collapsed rubble at the east end of the ruined church, and the walls are partially overgrown. The church was in ruins by the early 19th century, there was no glebe or glebehouse, and Sunday services were held in the schoolhouse.

The graveyard has a stone wall boundary about 1 metre high with a gate and stile and access is through field from a gate at the crossroads. The headstones date from the 18th to the 21st century and there is an 18th century altar tomb inside the ruined church. The names include FitzPatrick, but none of these seems to be linked with the family who commissioned Pugin to build their mausoleum in the 1850s.

I returned to Clough, where Saint Canice’s Church is known as Aghaboe rather than Clough. It was built in 1872-1877 by George Coppinger Ashlin, who had married Mary Pugin (1844-1931) in 1867.

Saint Canice, who gives his name to Saint Canice’s Cathedral in Kilkenny, was the founder of the Abbey of Aghaboe and is seen as the founder of the Diocese of Ossory. The parish takes its name from Aghaboe Abbey, which stands in ruins nearby, and the Church of Ireland parish church in Aghaboe is also known as Saint Canice’s and is part of the Rathdowney Group of Parishes in the Diocese of Ossory.

The foundation stone of Saint Canice’s Church, Clough … built with a ‘princely donation’ from Lord Castletown (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Saint Canice’s Church in Clough was built as a new Gothic church for Father Matthew Keeffe, thanks to a ‘princely donation’ from Lord Castletown. Tenders were invited for its completion in March 1873, and it was dedicated on 4 November 1877.

This is a Gothic Revival Catholic church, with a tower at the corner and side aisles. The spire was never built, and the builder, R Courtney, was sued by Father Keeffe, after portion of a wall collapsed. The East Window was a gift of a Mrs Phelan of San Francisco. The interior features include a gallery.

The Parish Priests of Aghaboe are buried in Saint Canice’s churchyard. There are no other burials in the churchyard, although there is a second, older burial ground surrounding the old school in Clough, now a community centre.

Once again, the name FitzPatrick name appears on some of the gravestones.

Although I had failed to find the Pugin mausoleum commissioned by the FitzPatrick family in the 1850s, not knowing it had been demolished, Clough was a pleasant diversion from the motorway route between Dublin and Limerick.

A thatched cottage in the centre of Clough (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

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