17 July 2021

A few surprises in
a Kilkenny book with
the stories of 99 lives

Three Comerfords feature on the cover and inside Donal Cadogan’s collection of fascinating biographies

Patrick Comerford

It is always a delight to come across an unexpected reference to my work and acknowledgments of it in a book, even when it has been published some time ago and especially when I have not been aware of it.

This year’s ‘staycation’ or summer road trip has been extended, and two of had a recent overnight stay in Kilkenny. We were staying in the River Court Hotel, and Kilkenny was colourful in the summer sunshine, even for such a quick, 24-hour visit.

Our stay was foreshortened by a call for our second Astra Zeneca vaccinations. But we squeezed in quick visits to some of our favourite places, including lunch in Zuni, a tour of the new Mediaeval Mile Museum in Saint Mary’s Church, a stroll around the food stalls on the Parade, a visit to the former Comerford and Langton family home in the Butterslip, a quick peek into the ‘Hole in the Wall,’ and a browsing the books in the Book Centre on High Street, opposite the Tholsel.

This is one of my favourite bookshops in Ireland, and I generally head first to books of local history and with local history inside the front door before slowly working my way through the other shelves.

So, I cannot explain how, in previous visits, I had not already picked up 99 Lives, Kilkenny Connections by Donal Cadogan, an About Kilkenny Publication, published in 2017.

This is a collection of stories 103 people with connections to Kilkenny and who have made Kilkenny what it is today. There are well-known names such as Alice Kyteler, the woman at the centre of Ireland's first witch-burning; James Hoban, the architect of the White House; George Berkeley was a bishop and Ireland’s best-known philosopher; and Jonathan Swift was the best-known of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.

James Mason was a journalist, author and chess player who met his final check mate through his drinking problem. Michael Byrne was the blind fiddler in the crew on the Bounty who was prevented by the mutineers from leaving with Captain Bligh.

Henry Hammond, a blacksmith, made pikes for the 1798 rebellion, and was present at the Battle of New Ross. George Brown died fighting in the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War, Hubert Butler spoke out against fascism and oppression across Europe, and Ellen Bischoffscheim, Countess of Desart, was the first Jewish member of the Senate.

Mary (Foley) Doyle (1837-1920) was the mother of Arthur Conan Doyle and so Cadogan jokingly calls her the ‘grandmother’ of Sherlock Holmes. Her mother, Arthur Conan Doyle’s grandmother, was Catherine (Pack) Foley from Kilkenny city.

As a young child, Mary Doyle lived on James’s Street, Kilkenny, where her mother ran a school, before leaving for Scotland as a widow in 1847. In Edinburgh, Mary Foley set up a school for governesses in Edinburgh and took in lodgers. One of those lodgers, Charles Doyle, married Mary’s daughter Mary in 1855, and they were the parents of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

In sport, James Nowlan gave his name to Nowlan Park in Kilkenny. James O’Donnell 1860-1942 from Piltown, a member of New Zealand’s first international rugby team. Mabel Esmonde Cahill was Ireland’s only Double Grand Slam tennis winner.

Billy Walsh from Walkin Street had a tough beginning in a pub on Walkin Street and surviving World War II, became one of the leading polo pony trainers in England and in 1985 before he died was presented with a bronze statuette of a polo player and pony by Queen Elizabeth II. He died in 1992 and in 2007, he was posthumously awarded a lifetime achievement award in the Audi Polo awards.

James DR McConnell, who was born on Parliament Street, was a language teacher in Eton, wrote school textbooks and wrote the authoritative history of Eton. In the 1950s, he also wrote best-selling novels. As a thriller writer, he wrote using his middle names, Douglas Rutherford, as a penname and became a household name.

The historian and priest Canon William Carrigan who, despite all his original research, was never able to discover his own exact date of birth. But his four-volume History of the Diocese of Ossory is a valuable source for local historians and genealogists alike.

I should have noticed this book before – three Comerford names feature on the cover and are the subjects of biographical notices: Edmund Comerford was Dean of Ossory and the last pre-Reformation Bishop of Ferns; John Comerford was a celebrated miniaturist in the early 19th century; and Nicholas Comerford was a mapmaker in London in the mid-17th century.

The author has named my Comerford family history website as the primary source for his biography of Edmund Comerford, and cites a paper I wrote for the Old Kilkenny Review in 1999 as the source for his account of Nicholas Comerford.

Naturally, as I read through this book this week, I found other references with Comerford family connections: Nicholas Langton of the Butterslip was the ancestor of Anne Langton who married James Comerford; Cardinal Rinuccini stayed at Ballybur Castle – although this is not mentioned; and Count Thomas O’Loughlin, whose family made their fortunes in the goldmines in Australia, married Kathleen Murphy from Ballybur Castle.

Donal Cadogan, who features regularly on KCLR, has produced a book with many nuggets that would defy even the goldmining efforts of the O’Loughlin family.

● Donal Cadogan, 99 Lives: Kilkenny Connections (Kilkenny: About Kilkenny Publications, 2017), 227 pp, £12.99, ISBN 978 0 9928788-1-8, 978 0 9928788-2-5

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
49, Saint Cronan’s, Roscrea

The Romanesque doorway at Saint Cronan’s Church, Roscrea, Co Tipperary, once the cathedral of a short-lived diocese (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During this time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

This week, my photographs are from seven cathedrals or former cathedrals in the Diocese of Limerick and Killaloe. Earlier in this series, I have looked at Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, Saint Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe, and Saint Brendan’s Cathedral, Clonfert. My photographs this week are from Aghadoe, Ardfert, Emly, Gort, Kilfenora, Kilmacduagh and Roscrea.

The High Cross at the site in Roscrea (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Since my appointment as Precentor of Limerick, Killaloe and Clonfert in 2017, I have tried to visit all the cathedrals and former cathedrals in the diocese. This morning (17 July 2021), my photographs are from Saint Cronan’s Church, Roscrea, Co Tipperary, once the cathedral in the short-lived Diocese of Roscrea.

Roscrea originally stood on the ancient road that ran in part from Tara to Cashel. This location may explain why Saint Cronan founded a monastery there in the early seventh century, and why the monastic site briefly served as the episcopal seat in the short-lived Diocese of Roscrea in the 12th century.

Today, the site monastic site includes a round tower, a much-worn High Cross, an isolated Romanesque door, and a 200-year-old Church of Ireland parish church.

Both the Church of Ireland parish church and the Roman Catholic parish church in Roscrea are named Saint Cronan’s Church, in honour of the founding saint of these ecclesiastical sites, which I visited last week on my back to Co Limerick from Kilkenny.

Saint Cronan, who died in 640, is seen as the abbot-bishop and patron of the short-lived Diocese of Roscrea, which was later incorporated into the Diocese of Killaloe.

Saint Cronan was born in the territory of Ely O'Carroll, Ireland. His father’s name was Odhran, and his mother came from west Clare. After spending his youth in Connacht, he founded a number of monastic houses before returning to his native area ca 610, when he founded a monastery and school in Roscrea or ‘the wood of Cré.’

The Annals of Tigernach and the Annals of Ulster describe Saint Cronan as ‘Bishop of Nendrum.’ The Acts of Saint Cronan abound in miracles, including the legend Dimma, one of his monks, transcribing the Four Gospels without rest in a period of 40 days and 40 nights.

Saint Cronan of Roscrea is said to have died in the year 640, and his east is celebrated on 28 April.

In the confusion that followed the Synod of Rath Breasail in 1111, an attempt was made to establish an independent Diocese of Roscrea. However, there was no Bishop of Roscrea at the Synod of Kells and Mellifont in 1151, although it is later listed as one of the dioceses in the Province of the Archbishop of Cashel, probably incorporating areas that had previously been in the Diocese of Killaloe.

Isaac Ua Cuanáin, Bishop of Roscrea, died in 1161, and nNo more is heard of the Diocese of Roscrea after that. It was subsumed once again, along with the Diocese of Scattery into the Diocese of Killaloe, and the cathedral church became an Augustinian friary and later a parish church.

All that survives of the ancient monastic site are the Romanesque gable of the 12th century cathedral church, a high cross and a round tower.

The once beautiful sandstone gable is now very badly weathered from pollution and age. It includes a tangent gable, blind arcades, a doorway of three orders, with the figure of an abbot or bishop above, and rosettes. It has been compared with similar doorways in Cormac’s Chapel in Cashel and Saint Brendan’s Cathedral, Clonfert.

The distinctive 12th century High Cross displays a figure of a ‘clothed’ Christ om one side and Saint Cronan on the other.

The round tower in Roscrea is first mentioned in 1131, when it was struck by lightning.

The remainder of the church or cathedral in Roscrea was demolished in 1812, and many of the stones were used to build a new Saint Cronan’s Church of Ireland parish church.

Saint Cronan’s is a single-cell, gable-fronted parish church, with five-bay side elevations to the nave, a four-stage tower and porch at the south-west elevation, and a vestry at the south-east elevation. The original building was funded by the Board of First Fruits with a gift of £100 and a loan of £775.

This church is a fine example of early 19th-century church architecture. The features include crenellated parapets, stone pinnacles at the gable ends and on the porch, a tower with crenellations and pinnacles, diagonal buttresses, pointed-arch windows with stained glass, and a timber battened double-leaf door.

The church was designed by a Roscrea-born architect James Sheane, whose name is inscribed on a datestone in the tower. He was buried in the churchyard when he died in 1816. His other known churches and glebe houses are in Modreeny and Kilrushall, in the Diocese of Killaloe.

The porch was added around 1813 by John Bowden (d. 1822), and the church was restored in 1879 by Sir Thomas Newenham Deane (1828-1899) of Woodward and Deane.

The grounds include a graveyard and a replica high cross, enclosed by a rubble stone wall, cast iron gate and railings.

Meanwhile, the neighbouring round tower is said to have been inhabited as late as 1815.

Until the M7 motorway was built, the main road from Limerick to Dublin cut through this monastic site, between the Round Tower on one side and the Romanesque doorway and the High Cross on the other side.

Despite the motorway taking traffic out of the centre of Roscrea, this is still a busy road with a blind and sharp bend, and I have felt I was taking my life into my hands when I have tried to cross the road from the road tower to the site of the church.

Saint Cronan’s Church, the Church of Ireland parish church in Roscrea, was built in 1812 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 12: 14-21 (NRSVA):

14 But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.

15 When Jesus became aware of this, he departed. Many crowds followed him, and he cured all of them, 16and he ordered them not to make him known. 17 This was to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

18 ‘Here is my servant, whom I have chosen,
my beloved, with whom my soul is well pleased.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
19 He will not wrangle or cry aloud,
nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets.
20 He will not break a bruised reed
or quench a smouldering wick
until he brings justice to victory.
21 And in his name the Gentiles will hope.’

The Round Tower in Roscrea is first mentioned in 1131 and was inhabited until 1815 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (17 July 2021) invites us to pray:

Lord, we pray for the work of international institutions in promoting and enacting justice.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The arch of the Romanesque doorway at Saint Cronan’s Church, Roscrea, is of three orders (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org