09 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)

Praying in Advent 2021:
12, Aeneas Francon Williams

The Revd Aeneas Francon Williams (right) on the steps of Wolseley House at Saint Andrew’s mission in Kalimpong in 1914 (Photograph: Iain Cameron William / Wikipedia)

Patrick Comerford

At first this looked like being a busy and stormy day, with a meeting of the Diocesan Council later this evening.

Before a busy day begins, I am taking some time early this morning (9 December 2021) for prayer, reflection and reading.

Each morning in the Advent, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, Reflections on a saint remembered in the calendars of the Church during Advent;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

As I as discussing the great missionary from Ireland to Scotland, Saint Columba, I thought it appropriate this morning to reflect on a great Scottish missionary of the last century, who is not in any church calendars but who died 50 years ago on this day.

The Revd Aeneas Francon Williams (1886-1971) was a Church of Scotland minister, a missionary in India and China, a chaplain, writer and a poet. He was born in the Wirral, Cheshire, on 17 February 1886, a son of John Francon Williams (1854-1911), a Welsh-born journalist and editor. He was baptised in Saint Peter’s Church, Liverpool, and was brought up on the edges of London and Essex, in Walthamstow and Chingford. Later, he attended the University of Edinburgh and Moray House Training College.

When he was 24, Aeneas Williams attended the 1910 World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh. The conference marks the beginning of the modern ecumenical movement, and its slogan was ‘The Evangelisation of the World in this Generation.’

A famed Church of Scotland missionary, the Revd Dr John Anderson Graham, spoke at the conference about the work of his mission at Saint Andrew’s Colonial Home in Kalimpong, West Bengal. Aeneas arrived in India later in 1910 to work at Saint Andrew’s, first teaching Geography and Science and then as Bursar.

Wolseley House, where he lived on the school grounds, was named after Sir Capel Charles Wolseley (1870-1923), grandson of Archdeacon Cadwallader Wolseley of Glendalough and a descendant of the Wolseley family of Wolseley in Staffordshire and Mount Wolseley in Co Carlow. Wolseley was the secretary of the home’s fundraising delegation in London, and he visited Saint Andrew’s with the Revd John Breeden, a Methodist missionary, in 1914.

Aeneas had several other roles at Saint Andrew’s, including financial adviser to Dr Graham and fundraiser for the children’s home. On 2 December 1914, Aeneas and Clara Anne Rendall, a missionary teacher from Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands, were married at Macfarlane Memorial Church in Kalimpong, and Dr Graham was the best man. When Clara gave birth to twins, Alfred Francon and Beatrice Clara, in 1916, they were baptised by Dr Graham.

Williams’s first book,A Pronouncement of the Public Conscience, was published in 1921, and after a fundraising and speaking tour of Scotland, Aeneas and his family returned to Saint Andrew’s in 1922.

In late March and early April 1922, Saint Andreew’s was host to the first Mount Everest expedition. The main team members were General Charles Granville Bruce, Edward Lisle Strutt, George Mallory, George Ingle Finch, Edward Felix Norton, Henry Treise Morshead, Howard Somervell, Arthur Wakefield, and the photographer and movie maker John Noel. The team also included was a large group of Tibetan and Nepalese Sherpas and porters.

Aeneas, Clara and their children were at the centre of the hospitality, with Wolseley House providing temporary accommodation for the lead mountaineers. The attempt to ascend Mount Everest was not successful but it established a new world record climbing height of 8,326 metres (27,320 ft). George Mallory and Andrew Irvine died in a fall In next attempt to conquer Everest in 1924.

Aeneas Williams’s book Everyone’s Book of the Weather was published in 1923, and was followed two years later by his Surveying for Everyone.

Meanwhile, Aeneas, Clara and their children left India for China in 1924. From Shanghai, they took a steamer 1,000 miles up the River Yangtze to Ichang, one of four ports open to foreign trade, where Aeneas was Principal at the Anglo-Chinese College Mission from 1924 to 1927. During his time there, Aeneas wrote the poem ‘Voice of an Oracle (in Old China)’.

The Church of Scotland became increasingly anxious about violence in Hankow and a possible general strike in China, and the Foreign Secretary, Austen Chamberlain, spoke in the Commons of taking immediate steps to protect British nationals in China.

Clara left China for Britain with their two children, and they lived for a while with Clara’s brother in Leith. By March 1927, Aeneas was advised to leave China for his own safety, and he left Shanghai on 4 April 1927, a week before the Shanghai massacre on 12 April 1927. Back in Edinburgh, he was reunited with his family. When Aeneas and Clara returned to India in late 1927, they were stationed at Mahakalguri, but their children remained in Edinburgh.

Aeneas was ordained by the Presbytery at Siliguri in North Bengal in 1928, and the Presbytery of Edinburgh admitted him to the Church of Scotland in 1932, and he studied at the New College in the University of Edinburgh for two years.

Aeneas was then stationed at the Church of Scotland mission in Matelli in the Jalpaiguri district of West Bengal, where he was the Minister of the Jalpaiguri Parish, and Clara and Aeneas ran schools from kindergarten to university level.

When India gained independence in 1947, Clara returned to Edinburgh, while Aeneas remained in India for the handover of the mission, where staffing levels at the mission and the college had fallen.

Aeneas left India in 1948, and was reunited with Clara in Edinburgh, where he was a prison chaplain, chaplain of Edinburgh Social Services Department and affiliated with several churches, including Saint Giles Cathedral. After Clara died in Edinburgh in 1959, Aeneas spent time travelling the world, circumnavigating it several times. Later, he lived in Stockbridge, Edinburgh, before moving to Sheffield. He died in hospital in Sheffield on 9 December 1971 and is buried with Clara in Edinburgh.

Matthew 11: 11-15 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. 13 For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John came; 14 and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. 15 Let anyone with ears listen!’

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (9 December 2021, Day of Commemoration of the Victims of Genocide) invites us to pray:

Today we remember those who lost their lives as a result of discrimination and persecution. We pray for a world in which no one is victimised because of their creed or colour.

Yesterday: The Virgin Mary

Tomorrow: Thomas Merton

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