04 October 2021

Youghal’s charms include
its mediaeval church and
legends about Walter Raleigh

Saint Mary’s Collegiate Church is a national monument and the principal tourist attraction in Youghal (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

The charms of West Cork, with its small towns, harbours, bookshops, cafés and offshore islands, are well-known. But during this year’s ‘road trip’ or summer ‘staycation,’ I also rediscovered the charms of Youghal, in east Cork Cork, on the estuary of the River Blackwater, and 30 km south of Cappoquin, which holds so many of my childhood memories.

Youghal, with a population of about 8,000, stands on the edge of a steep riverbank, and has long, narrow streets and narrow side lanes. The town dates back to a Viking settlement in the 11th century, and received its first charter in 1209.

Canon Andrew Orr, and two parishioners, Lydia Mossop and Norman McDonald, offered a personalised tour of Saint Mary’s Collegiate Church, the largest and most important mediaeval building in Youghal and one of the largest churches in Ireland.

The church may stand on the site of a monastic settlement associated with Saint Declan of Ardmore, ca 450. It was rebuilt ca 750, the roof timbers have been carbon dated to 1170, and the Great Nave was erected in 1220. The marks of the masters are still found on the pillars of the gothic arches.

In the chancel, a sepulchre tomb on the north side of the altar is a rare example of this liturgical feature. It was a major focus for mediaeval piety in Holy Week, but was defaced during the Reformation.

The font dates from ca 1400; the unusual fortified bell tower probably dates from the 15th century. The mediaeval remains include effigies, head-slabs, canopy tombs, and the Bennet chantry chapel that later became the Boyle Chapel.

Saint Mary’s became a Collegiate Church in 1464 with the foundation of a college that included a Warden and Clerks, or priests, with eight fellows and eight singing men.

Inside Saint Mary’s Collegiate Church, Youghal … the timbers of the roof have been carbon dated to 1170 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)


After the Desmond rebellion, Sir Walter Raleigh was granted vast tracts of land in Lismore and Youghal. They were later bought by Richard Boyle (1566-1643), 1st Earl of Cork. Boyle rebuilt the church in 1608, and erected a marble monument for himself and his family in the Boyle Chapel.

The Boyle monument shows a reclining Boyle between his first wife, Joan Apsley, and his second wife, Catherine Fenton, and their children below them, including Robert Boyle, who gives his name to ‘Boyle’s Law.’

Oliver Cromwell delivered a funeral oration from the top of a chest still in the church. A sword rest once held the ceremonial sword of the Mayors of Youghal. The pulpit dates from the 1730s.

Large-scale restoration in 1851-1854 included rebuilding the chancel. The stonework in the great East Window, dating from the 1460s, was restored, and the glass depicts the coats-of-arms of many leading families associated with the church.

A Chapel of Remembrance in the North Transept was created in the late 1980s, with furnishings from the closed church in Templemichael.

Saint Mary’s is now a National Monument under the care of the government, and is leased by Representative Church Body to the local council.

The Boyle Monument in the Boyle Chapel in Saint Mary’s Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Youghal and the first
Jewish Mayor in Ireland

During my visit I was reminded that Youghal is the first town in either Ireland or Britain to have a Jewish mayor. William Annyas or William Moses Annyas Eanes (Ben Yohanan) was elected Mayor of Youghal in 1555.

His grandfather, Gil Anes, was a Marrano Jew or converso who had emigrated from Belmonte in Portugal. Belmonte was the birthplace of Pedro Álvares Cabral, the Portuguese navigator who discovered the land of Vera Cruz, now known as Brazil.

Many of the first Jews to come to Ireland were Marrano merchants from Spain and Portugal, who arrived as religious refugees fleeing the persecutions of Inquisition.

The surname of William Annyas is sometimes written as Ãnes and anglicised to Ames. It has been suggested that in some cases the family may have used the surname Ennis. His daughter married Yacov Kassin, son of Yehuda Kassin (Juan Cassin), a Marrano merchant who had moved to Galway.

Later, in the late 16th century, Francis Annyas was a three-time Mayor of Youghal in 1569, 1576 and again in 1581. He commanded the English garrison in Youghal during the Desmond Rebellions and had a colourful life working as a spy for Sir Francis Drake in the Azores. However, his exact kinship or family ties with William Annyas are not known.

The Town Hall in Youghal, Co Cork … Youghal elected Jewish mayors in 1555, 1569, 1576 and 1581 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)


There never seems to have been being a synagogue in Youghal. The first Sephardic synagogue in Cork City may date from the later arrivals of merchants and families from Portugal and Spain in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

The site of the Sephardic cemetery in Cork was discovered in the last century in Kemp Street, on the south-east corner of White Street, to the rear of the Cork Hebrew Congregation’s synagogue in South Terrace, which closed in 2016. However, no traces of a Sephardic synagogue have been found in the city.

As for Belmonte, it is, perhaps, the Portuguese town with the strongest Jewish presence. Hebrew culture and tradition have survived there continuously from the early 16th century until today, keeping their existence secret from their neighbours in the centuries after the Inquisition.

The Jewish community in Belmonte dates from the Middle Ages and the town’s first synagogue may have been founded in 1297. King Manuel issued an edict in 1496 expelling all Jews from Portugal, but a group of Crypto-Jews remained in Belmonte and they were the immediate, direct ancestors of the community that has survived until today.

They were a closed community, where the women preserved their Jewish traditions, keeping them alive in their isolation and handing them down through the generations for 500 years. The post-Inquisition Jewish presence in Belmonte was first documented in 1917 by Samuel Schwarz, a Jewish engineer from Poland. He was working at a nearby tin mine when he noticed the secretive habits of many families in the town.

The Sephardic Jews in Belmonte returned to Judaism formally in 1989 and founded the Jewish Community of Belmonte.

The Clock Gate Tower, the symbol of Youghal, was built in 1777 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Myrtle Grove and
the first potatoes

The streets around Saint Mary’s Church have been renamed the ‘Raleigh Quarter’ and Youghal is attracting a new generation of tourists. Myrtle Grove, the Tudor house beside Saint Mary’s Collegiate Church, was once the home of Sir Walter Raleigh, and was also the home of the writer and journalist Claud Cockburn.

Myrtle Grove is said to stand on the site of the house of the Wardens of Youghal. With its tall chimneys, oriel windows and many gables, it is a rare Irish example of an unfortified, late mediaeval Tudor style stone house. It is said to have been built by Sir Walter Raleigh, and there are many legends associated with his time in the house.

One legend says a panicked servant at Myrtle Grove dowsed Raleigh in water while he was smoking the first tobacco in Ireland. Another says Raleigh brought the first potatoes from Virginia to Ireland in 1585 and planted them at Myrtle Grove.

For the following two years, Raleigh was mayor of Youghal, where Queen Elizabeth I granted him 170 sq km (42,000 acres) of land. At Myrtle Grove, he entertained the poet Edmund Spenser, who is said to have been inspired to write the last verse of the ‘Faerie Queene’ while looking out the window of Myrtle Grove.

Four yew trees in the gardens are said to have been planted by Raleigh, and he made his final trip from Cork to the West Indies in 1617.

However, many of the legends about his days in Youghal may be romantic myths created in the 1850s by Samuel Hayman, whose family acquired Myrtle Grove in the previous century.

Myrtle Grove, Youghal, Co Cork … associated with many of the legends about Sir Walter Raleigh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)


In the early 20th century, Myrtle Grove was the home of Sir Henry Arthur Blake (1840-1918), who had been Governor of the Bahamas, Newfoundland, Jamaica, Hong Kong and Ceylon (Sri Lanka). He was born in Limerick and died at Myrtle Grove in 1918.

Blake’s daughter, Olive, and her husband, Major John Bernard Arbuthnot, moved into Myrtle Grove with their family in 1916. Their youngest child was the writer and artist Patricia Evangeline Anne Cockburn (1914-1989). When her parents moved to London in 1918, Patricia was left at Myrtle Grove with her widowed grandmother.

Patricia married the journalist Claud Cockburn (1904-1981) in 1940, and they returned to Youghal to live at Myrtle Grove in 1947.

For many years, Claud Cockburn was a columnist with The Irish Times while I worked there, and some of his sons, including Patrick Cockburn, also contributed to The Irish Times. Patrick’s godmother, Lady Clodagh Anson, once lived at the Towers in Ballysaggartmore, an exotic Gothic folly near Lismore, Co Waterford.

Patricia and Claud Cockburn moved to Ardmore, Co Waterford, in 1980. Claud died in 1980, Patricia died in 1989, and they are buried in Saint Mary’s Churchyard, close to the gates of Myrtle Grove.

Myrtle Grove remains in private ownership and is closed to the public, but it is being renovated and restored.

The grave of Patricia and Claud Cockburn in the churchyard of Saint Mary’s Collegiate Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

This two-page feature was first published in the Church Review (Dublin and Glendalough) in October 2021

A two-page feature on Youghal, Co Cork, in the October 2021 edition of the ‘Church Review’

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
128, Saint Francis Church, Rethymnon

The former Church of Saint Francis on Saint Francis street now hosts the Archaeological Museum of Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

Today is the Feast of Saint Francis (4 October 2021), one of the few post-schism Western saints who remains popular in the Orthodox Church. Saint Francis is recalled on this day in the calendars of many Anglican churches, although not in the calendar of the Church of Ireland.

Before the day gets busy, I am taking a little time this morning for prayer, reflection and reading. Each morning in the time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

My theme for these few weeks is churches in Rethymnon on the island of Crete, where I spent two weeks in mid-September.

My photographs this morning (4 October 2021) are from the Church of Saint Francis on Saint Francis street (Αγίου Φραγκίσκου, Agiou Frankiskou), between Ethnikís Antistaseos street (Εθνικής Αντιστάσεως) and Mikrasiaton square (Μικρασιατών) in the heart of the old city.

Gazi Huseyin Pasha incorporated the church into in a larger complex and the former church was used as a poorhouse during the Turkish occupation (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

During the Venetian period in Crete, many Franciscan churches were built in Crete, including Iraklion, Rethymnon, Chania and Neapolis. Petros Philargos, a friar of the Franciscan community in Iraklion who was born in Neapolis in eastern Crete, later became Pope Alexander V.

The Church of Saint Francis was the main church of the Franciscan monastery in Venetian Rethymnon. It was founded at the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries, and despite the small number of friars, the monastery enjoyed considerable prestige and became the burial place for members of the nobility, officials, and wealthy families.

The churches and some annexes on the south side are the only surviving buildings of the former monastery.

The church was a timber-roofed basilica with transepts, having a square sanctuary and two side chapels. The central nave was separated from the rest of the church by a wall built in the Ottoman period.

The transept has no roof, and the sanctuary and part of the south chapel are now in private ownership.

The magnificent doorway and its composite columns are unique in Rethymnon and are part of the building programme in the late 16th and early 17th century that gave the monastery its Renaissance character.

This elaborately – almost excessively – decorated ornate doorway is mainly Corinthian in style, but it includes the only example in Rethymnon of compound capitals, which are one of the five Renaissance styles. The overlapping levels of the architrave help to date the doorway from the same time as both the doorway of Santa Maria Church and the Rimondi fountain, both only a few paces away. The keystone is notable for its large acanthus flower.

The south chapel is noted for its dome, which rests on four pairs of arches supported by pillars and columns, all made of grey marble from Istria, a rare material in Venetian Crete.

Excavation in the west nave uncovered several makeshift shaft graves that have been linked with the Ottoman siege of the city in 1646. The transept and north chapel contained well-made cist graves. The single tomb in the centre of the south chapel probably belonged to a prominent member of the local community.

After the Ottoman capture of Rethymnon, Gazi Huseyin Pasha incorporated the church into in a complex that included the neighbouring Nerantze Mosque in 1654, and the former church was used as an imaret or poorhouse during the Turkish occupation.

In the 1920s, the church was used to provide shelter for Greek refugees from Anatolia. In more recent years it contained a number of shops, and then until 1996 it was used as an exhibition centre for the local city council.

Careless and fruitless attempts at restoration work in the 1970s led to part of the building being demolished. However, recent excavations around the church unearthed some important archaeological discoveries, including the tombs of two Venetian nobles.

For a time, the building belonged to the University of Crete, and the later plans are to use the former church to house the Byzantine Museum of Rethymnon and the Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Collection of the Prefecture of Rethymnon. For many years, it remains closed to the public, but it now hosts the Archaeological Museum of Rethymnon.

Inside the former Church of Saint Francis (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Luke 10: 25-37 (NRSVA):

25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ 26 He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ 27 He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’ 28 And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’

29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ 30 Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ 37 He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’

The magnificent doorway and its composite columns are unique in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (4 October 2021, Saint Francis, World Habitat Day) invites us to pray:

Lord, we give thanks for your bountiful creation. May we endeavour to take better care of the environment by living sustainably.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

A relief from the funerary monument of a priest’s wife, Maria Kouratoupolou (1531), from Saint John’s Church, Skouloufia (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

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

A 15th century Byzantine-style fresco from the Church of the Panaghia (Virgin Mary) at Patsos in Amari (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)