Thursday, 9 December 2021

Nantenan Glebe, for sale
at an online auction, has
two centuries of church links

Nantenan Glebe was built about 200 years ago and has an opning asking price of €200,000

Patrick Comerford

On the road between Askeaton and Rathkeale last weekend, I noticed that Nantenan Glebe is for sale through DNG Michael Creedon by online auction on 13 January, with an asking price of €200,000.

Saint James’ Church at Nantenan and the surrounding churchyard, half-way between Askeaton and Rathkeale, in west Co Limerick, may date back to the late mediaeval period or even later. Nantenan Glebe, the former glebe house or rectory for the parish, was built by the Board of First Fruits in the early 19th century. Despite later additions, the house retains much of its modest form, and many of its features, including the slate roof and sash windows, help to conserve the original appearance of the house.

This detached, three-bay, two-storey over basement former rectory was built around 1819. Although I can find no records of the architect, I have wondered whether it was designed by James Pain, who designed the former rectory in Askeaton at the same time.

The house has a porch to the front or west elevation, a single-bay single-storey extension to the south, a two-bay three-storey block to the rear or east elevation, and a single-bay, single-storey extension to south elevation.

The house has roughcast rendered walls, a hipped slate sprocketed roof with rendered chimneystacks, a hipped slate roof on the rear block, flat roofs on the extensions, and a half-hipped slate roof on the porch.

There are square-headed openings with six-over-six pane timber sliding sash windows that have painted stone sills. There are square-headed windows in the extensions, some with timber casement windows. A flight of concrete steps with metal railings leads up to the porch and front door, where there is a square-headed opening with double-leaf timber panelled doors.

Much of the original glebe land still surrounds Nantenan Glebe (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Outside, it is possible to trace the former walled garden, the kitchen garden and the stables.

A two-bay single-storey outbuilding at the east courtyard has a pitched slate roof. The courtyard has rubble boundary walls, with an elliptical-headed carriage arch to the north wall with red brick voussoirs.

At the entrance to the drive to the west of the house, there is a pair of square-profile rubble limestone piers with double-leaf cast-iron gates and rubble limestone boundary walls.

The Board of First Fruits contributed a gift of £450 towards building the glebehouse in 1819, and a further loan of £50. Samuel Lewis described the house in the 1830s as a handsome residence. At that time, the glebe comprised six acres, which had been bought by the Board of First Fruits.

Until the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland, Nantenan union of parishes was part of the corps of the Precentorship of Saint Mary’s Cathedral. Nantenan parish was united with Rathkeale from 1918, and also with Ballingarry and Rathronan from 1958. So, my predecessors as precentors and as the priests in this parish had a particular interest in the glebehouse at Nantenan.

After almost 200 years, much of this glebe land still surrounds the house, and this week’s rain it reinforces my claim after the ‘Brexit’ referendum in Britain that Ireland too is ‘a green and pleasant land.’

The drive at Nantenan Glebe (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The death of the Revd Martha Gray-Stack (1935-2021) earlier this year reminded me that her late husband, Dean Charles Gray-Stack (1912-1985), was the last Church of Ireland priest to live in Nantenan Glebe. He was one of my predecessors as Precentor of Limerick, and long before me had been in ministry in the Rathkeale Group of Parishes in the 1940s and 1950s. He was also a well-known contributor to the The Irish Times in the 1950s and 1960s.

Charles Maurice Gray-Stack was born in Armagh, the son of the Revd William Bagot Stack (1878-1953), a grandson of Charles Maurice Stack (1825-1914), Bishop of Clogher (1886-1902), and a descendant of the Stack family of Stackstown and Crotta, Co Kerry.

The Stacks were a prominent clerical family in the Church of Ireland. The bishop’s father, the Revd Edward Stack, and grandfather, Canon Walter Bagot, were both priests, while his brothers included Canon Thomas Stack (1810-1871), an SPG missionary in New South Wales before moving to Sydney; and the Revd Richard Stack (1815-1851), curate of Saint Peter’s and known for his work as a ‘slum priest’ in Dublin.

The Revd William Bagot Stack (1878-1953) had worked in British colonial administration in Central Africa and was a lieutenant in the Royal Irish Fusiliers before being ordained deacon in 1907 and priest in 1908. Later in life, he was the Rector of Dundalk (1934-1941) and Rector of Inistioge, Co Kilkenny (1941-1946) in the Diocese of Ossory.

Charles Gray-Stack was educated at Campbell College Belfast and Trinity College Dublin (BA, MA), and was ordained deacon in 1937 and priest in 1939. He served his first curacies in Birr (1937-1938) and then in the dioceses of Ferns and Ossory: Ardamine (1938-1940), Kilnehue and Kilpipe (1940-1941) and Inistioge (1941-1944), where his father was the rector.

He then moved to the Diocese of Limerick and Ardfert, and for five years was the diocesan curate in Ardfert and Aghadoe and curate of Killarney (1944-1949). While he was there, he obtained a confirmation of the coat of arms of Bishop Charles Maurice Stack for the bishop’s descendants in 1948.

He moved to the Rathkeale and Nantenan Union of Parishes as curate in 1949, when Maurice Talbot, a future Dean of Limerick, was the rector, and lived for five years at Nantenan Glebe. During his time here, he changed his surname from Stack to Gray-Stack, recalling his maternal grandfather, Dr Robert Gray of Armagh.

He moved to Co Kerry as a parish rector in 1953, first in Kilgobbin (1953-1961), which included Dingle from 1957, and then in Kenmare and Sneem (1961-1985), which included Waterville and Valentia from 1984.

In the cathedral chapter, he was Prebendary of Ballycahane (1962-1963), Precentor of Limerick (1963-1966), and Chancellor of Limerick, Prebendary of Kilpeacon and Dean of Ardfert (1966-1985). Of course, the title of Dean of Ardfert was an honour or sinecure, often offered to the most senior rector in the Diocese of Ardfert: the cathedral in Ardfert had ceased to function for a long time, and the church there closed in the 1940s. Today, the Dean of Limerick is also the Dean of Ardfert.

He married Martha Mary Stewart-Clarke from Castledawson in Saint George’s Church, Belfast, in 1959.

Charlie Gray-Stack became a national figure for his regular contributions to The Irish Times and to RTÉ. He was known as a liturgist and for his engagement in social affairs. He was prominent in ecumenical activities, especially the Glenstal and Greenhills ecumenical conferences.

When he died on 25 July 1985, he was still Rector of Kenmare and Dean of Ardfert, and his funeral at Saint Patrick’s Church, Kenmare, was featured on the RTÉ news.

His widow, Martha-Gray Stack, was ordained deacon in 1990 and priest in 1991. She was an NSM curate in Saint Mary’s Cathedral and Saint Michael’s Church, Limerick (1990-1993), Rector of Clara (1993-2000), and the chaplain of Kingston College (2000-2010) in Mitchelstown, Co Cork. She died earlier this year (21 January 2021).

Nantenan Glebe … a regency-era rectory between Rathkeale and Askeaton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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