10 May 2023

Sir Charles Barrington,
‘the father of Irish rugby’,
and his life in Co Limerick

The Barrington family at Glenstal Castle in 1917: Charles, Winifred, Mary-Rose, Fitzwilliam and Sir Charles Barrington

Patrick Comerford

I have spent a lot of time in recent weeks researching and writing a paper on members of the Church of Ireland in Co Limerick and the impact on their lives of World War I, the War of Independence and the Irish Civil War.

A key figure in these stories is Sir Charles Burton Barrington (1848-1943) of Glenstal Castle, who is also known as ‘the father of Irish rugby.’ He played a significant role in seeking peace and conciliation at the height of sectarian attacks, but eventually moved to England after the murder of his only daughter.

He was born at Glenstal Castle, Murroe, Co Limerick, on 6 February 1848, the eldest of four sons of Sir Croker Barrington (1817-1890) and his wife Anna Felicia West. He was educated at Saint Columba’s College, Rathfarnham, Rugby School (1864-1866), and Trinity College Dublin (BA 1870, MA 1877).

He was an accomplished rower and rugby player and is credited with being ‘the father of Irish rugby.’

The playing fields of Rugby … Sir Charles Barrington is known as ‘the father of Irish rugby’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Dublin University Football Club (DUFC) existed as early as 1854. When Barrington entered TCD in January 1867 there was what he described as ‘a rugby of sorts’, but with few formal rules and no designated kit. At Rugby, he played the game according to the rules produced in the school in 1846. Later, he took credit for formalising the game in TCD and, by extension, throughout Ireland.

Barrington and RM Wall, honorary secretary of DUFC, met in 1867 in Wall’s rooms in ‘Botany Bay’ to lay down the rules for DUFC and its matches. He first captained the club in 1867-1868, and was captain for the following two seasons. At the subsequent AGM it was announced that the rules had been forwarded to other clubs in the hope of spreading uniformity.

In reality, the rules were almost identical to those of Rugby School. The important difference was that the DUFC rules outlawed what was known as hacking. Under the Rugby rules, the forwards remained standing in a scrum and attempted to win the ball by hacking at the other side. Under the DUFC rules, the forwards crouched in a formation similar to today’s scrum and tried to win the ball by hooking.

Barrington and Wall also decided to introduce a formal kit for the team, with the black and red jerseys. The kit was ordered from Rugby. Barrington also helped to formalise positions and differentiate between forwards and backs by introducing the positions of full back and half backs. He appears in the earliest known photograph of DUFC rugby team, taken in 1867, and in a photograph taken during his last season as captain of the first XV (1869-1870).

Barrington was also an accomplished oarsman. He competed in Trinity’s first Henley regatta in 1870 and was one of the founders of Limerick Boat Club that year. He continued to row for many years. Barrington and his brothers William, Croker and John represented Ireland and Dublin University Boat Club (DUBC) at the Philadelphia International Centennial Regatta, in 1876 and he stroked the DUBC boat to victory.

The boathouse of the Dublin University Boat Club (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Barrington family held more than 9,400 acres in Co Limerick in the 1870s and was popular throughout the county. Barrington became a DL, JP and high sheriff (1879).

Barrington succeeded his father as fifth baronet on 4 July 1890, inheriting the family title and estates. But with his unionist views he failed to get elected to the first Limerick County Council in 1899. He was commissioned as an officer of the Limerick City Royal Field Reserve Artillery in 1901.

Barrington was in his late 60s during World War I, but was attached to an Anglo-American unit with the French under Lord Castlemaine. He drove a field ambulance in France, for which he was made an MBE in 1919.

Back in Ireland, he was a life governor and joint honorary secretary of Barrington’s Hospital, founded by his grandfather Joseph Barrington, was the provincial grand master of the freemasons of North Munster and was the first president of the Limerick Amateur Athletic Bicycle Club.

Sir Charles Barrington was a life governor and joint honorary secretary of Barrington’s Hospital (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Barrington married Mary Rose Bacon (1868-1943), the youngest daughter of Sir Henry Hickman Bacon, in All Saints’ Church, Margaret Street, London, on 14 February 1895, and they were the parents of two sons and a daughter.

Their only daughter Winifred Frances Barrington, who had been a nurse during World War I, was shot dead by the IRA on 14 May 1921 in an ambush near Newport, Co Tipperary, on a police inspector with whom she was travelling.

But Sir Charles Barrington continued to be involved in peace efforts during the Irish war of independence (1918-1921) and the civil war (1921-1922). He chaired a public meeting on 4 April 1922 to express disgust at sectarian outrages in Belfast, and – despite the earlier murder of his daughter – praised the toleration shown to Protestants in Limerick and insisted they ‘had thrived’ in a Catholic community.

Glenstal Castle, Co Limerick … sold by the Barrington family in 1926 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

But the Barrington family decided to leave left Ireland to live at Fairthorne Manor, Botley, their estate in Hampshire. Barrington offered Glenstal Castle to the Free State government in 1925 as a residence for the governor general. But, due to its distance from Dublin and the cost of upkeep, WT Cosgrave turned down the offer. Glenstal was sold to Monsignor James Ryan, a former president of Saint Patrick’s College, Thurles, for £2,000 in 1926. Ryan later offered the castle and grounds to Benedictine monks from Maredsous Abbey in Belgium for founding a community.

During the 1920s and 1930s, he corresponded with Edward John McCartney Watson of TCD, who was researching Dublin University’s older sports clubs. He was said still to row occasionally (but only in fine weather) in Hampshire in his 90s. He died on 12 August 1943 in Hampshire at the age of 95. Fairthorne Manor was sold to the YMCA in 1946.

The family title was first inherited by his elder son Sir Charles Bacon (‘Pat’) Barrington (1902-1980) as sixth baronet, and then by his younger son, Sir Alexander Fitzwilliam Croker (‘Fitz’) Barrington (1909-2003) as seventh baronet.

His brother John Beatty Barrington (1859-1926), who rowed with him for Dublin University Boat Club (DUBC), later was his land agent in Limerick, a Justice of the Peace for Limerick City and County, High Sheriff of Co Limerick (1912), and a member of Limerick County Council.

John Barrington’s daughter, Mary Charlotte Gladys Barrington (1889-1981), was the mother of John Middleton (‘Jock’) Campbell (1912-1994), Baron Campbell of Eskan, who spent formative childhood years in Glenstal Castle and was a key figure in the growth and development of Milton Keynes as chair of Milton Keynes Development Corporation.

Sir Charles Burton Barrington’s biography in the Dictionary of Irish Biography was contributed by Shaun Boylan (October 2009)

Sir Charles Barrington was one of the founders of Limerick Boat Club in 1870 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Morning prayers in Easter
with USPG: (32) 10 May 2023

King Oswy of Northumbria and Bishop Diuma of Lichfield in a stained-glass window in the Chapter House in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

We are more half-way through the season of Easter, and this is the Fifth Week of Easter. Two of us are staying for a few days in York, having arrived late on Monday evening. After yesterday’s visit to Hebden Bridge and Heptonstall, we are setting off early this morning to visit Whitby.

Before this day gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for prayer and reflection. Following my recent visit to Lichfield Cathedral, I am reflecting each morning this week in these ways:

1, Short reflections on the windows in the Chapter House in Lichfield Cathedral;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

The window in Lichfield Cathedral with King Oswy of Northumbria and Bishop Diuma of Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

King Oswy of Northumbria, and Diuma window:

The Chapter House in Lichfield Cathedral is currently the venue for the exhibition ‘Library and Legacy,’ showcasing the collections in the cathedral library.

The chapter house was decorated with frescoes and stained glass in the late 15th century by Thomas Heywood, Dean of Lichfield in 1457-1492. The glass in the Chapter House once contained figures of the apostles, with other depictions above. These all predated the Cromwellian era, and were destroyed by the Puritans during the Civil War in the mid-17th century.

In the 19th century, the glazing of the chapter house displayed armorial bearings, more or less correct, in imitation of glass known to have ornamented the cathedral in the past. This armorial glass gradually gave way to glass representing scenes in the history of the cathedral. Six of the windows were glazed with these images in the late 19th and early 20th century, and the original but unfilled plan was to fill all the windows in the Chapter House.

The fourth window I am looking at this morning is by Charles Eamer Kempe and is in memory of Canon Willian Gresley, a prebendary of Lichfield Cathedral. The figures in the window are King Oswy of Northumbria, and Diuma, the first Bishop of Mercia.

All that is known of Bishop Diuma’s life is found in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Diuma was an Irishman, and was one of four priests – Cedd, Atta, Betti and Diuma – from the Kingdom of Northumbria, who accompanied the newly-baptised Peada, son of King Penda of Mercia, back to Mercia in 653. Peada became a Christian when he married Alhflaed, daughter of King Oswiu of Northumbria.

After Penda’s death, Diuma was consecrated a bishop by Saint Finan of Lindisfarne, although the date of his death is unknown. The seat of the diocese was moved by Saint Chad to Lichfield in 669.

Oswiu, also known as Oswy or Oswig (612-670), was King of Bernicia from 642 and of Northumbria from 654 until his death. He is notable for his role at the Synod of Whitby in 664, which brought the church in Northumbria into conformity with the wider Church.

Oswiu was a devoted Christian, establishing a number of monasteries, including Gilling Abbey and Whitby Abbey, which we plan to visit later today. At the request of King Oswiu of Northumbria, Saint Chad was consecrated bishop of the Northumbrians, with his see at York, where we are staying this week.

Archbishop Theodore of Canterbury was impressed with Chad’s humility and asked King Oswiu to appoint Chad as the Bishop of Mercia in 669. Chad chose Lichfield as the new seat of his diocese and there he built a church and monastery.

The scenes in the lower parts of the window depict Bishop Jaruman promising to build a church at Lichfield, and the institution by Bishop Æthelwald of prebendaries.

Jaruman, who died in 669, was the fourth Bishop of Mercia, during the reign of King Wulfhere. He probably originated in Ireland but was educated at Lindisfarne, and he undertook several missions to Saxon tribes. Bishop Æthelwold or Æthelweald was Bishop of Lichfield from 818 to 830. The Book of Cerne may have been made in his honour in the early ninth century.

Canon William Gresley (1801-1876), who is commemorated in this window, was a key figure in the Tractarian movement from 1833.

Gresley was born on 16 March 1801, the eldest son of Richard Gresley of Stowe House, Lichfield. He was educated at Westminster School and Christ Church Oxford (BA 1823, MA 1825), and was ordained deacon in 1825 and priest in 1826. He was a curate at Drayton Bassett, near Tamworth, and then the curate of Saint Chad’s, Lichfield, and the morning lecturer at Saint Mary’s Church, Lichfield (1830-1837). He was an earnest High Church priest and from 1833 he was involved in the Tractarian movement. He became a prebendary of Lichfield Cathedral in 1840.

Gresley later moved to Saint Paul’s, Brighton, and in 1857 became the perpetual curate (vicar) of All Saints’ Boyne Hill, near Maidenhead, Berkshire, serving there for the rest of his working life. He married Anne Wright, daughter of John Barker Scott, a Lichfield banker. He died at Boyne Hill on 19 November 1876.

His works included The Siege of Lichfield, a Tale illustrative of the Great Rebellion (1843) and a biography of Charles Lever. To describe the influence on his thinking of the Oxford Movement , he wrote Bernard Leslie, or a Tale of the Last Ten Years (1842, 1859). His Ordinance of Confession (1851) caused a stir at the time. His other works include Anglo-Catholicism. A short Treatise on the Theory of the English Church (1844), and The Use of Confirmation (1848).

The window at the east end of the south aisle in Saint Chad’s Church, Lichfield, is in memory of Anne Wright Gresley. It was installed in 1864 and provides the background to the Lady Chapel altar. The window in Lichfield Cathedral in memory of Canon William Gresley was dedicated on 31 July 1895. The list of subscribers includes 20 people with the name Gresley.

The lower parts of the window show Bishop Jaruman promising to build a church at Lichfield, and the institution by King Æthelwald of prebendaries (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

John 15: 1-8 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 1 ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6 Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.’

Canon William Gresley was the curate of Saint Chad’s, Lichfield, in 1830-1837 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s prayer:

The theme this week in the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘The Work and Mission of the Laity.’ USPG’s Regional Manager for Africa, Fran Mate, reflected on Sunday on the work and mission of the laity.

The USPG Prayer invites us to pray this morning (Wednesday 10 May 2023):

Let us pray for lay women. May their ministry be encouraged within the worldwide Church and may those whose vocation to ordained ministry is denied find grace to build and plant.


Almighty God,
who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ
have overcome death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life:
grant that, as by your grace going before us
you put into our minds good desires,
so by your continual help
we may bring them to good effect;
through Jesus Christ our risen Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion:

Eternal God,
whose Son Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life:
grant us to walk in his way,
to rejoice in his truth,
and to share his risen life;
who is alive and reigns, now and for ever.

Saint Mary’s Church, Market Square, now The Hub at Saint Mary’s, Lichfield … Canon William Gresley was the morning lecturer at Saint Mary’s Church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

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