17 July 2023

The George and Dragon
reopens on historic site
beside Lichfield Cathedral

The spires of Lichfield Cathedral reflected in the Beer Garden at Prince Rupert’s Mound behind the George and Dragon on Beacon Street, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

I was back in Lichfield a few days ago, and it was a delight to see that the George and Dragon on the east side of Beacon Street has reopened after being closed for eight months.

The George and Dragon is a friendly local pub and one of the oldest pubs in Lichfield, built in 1818, and with the biggest beer garden that boasts outstanding views of Lichfield Cathedral.

The garden is also a site of historical significance as the site of Prince Rupert’s Mound, an important battle site during the Siege of Lichfield in the English Civil War in the 1640s.

Prince Rupert’s Mound was an important battle site during the Siege of Lichfield in 1643 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Prince Rupert lay siege to the Parliamentarians during the English Civil War from this site. Prince Rupert’s Mound is a grassy knoll behind the George and Dragon, and is easily found by turning from Beacon Stret into Gaia Lane, and walking down a few paces, where it rises on the left or north side.

Prince Rupert’s Mound is one of two open space areas in Lichfield that are scheduled as ancient monuments: the other is the site of the Friary. Prince Rupert’s Mound takes its name from the earthworks that supported the artillery bombardment of the Cathedral Close by Prince Rupert of the Rhine during the sieges in the English Civil War in the mid-17th century.

During the second siege of The Close in 1643, after the Parliamentarians had consolidated their positions in Lichfield and strengthened their defences in the Cathedral Close, Prince Rupert (1619-1682) entered the city on 7 April. He surrounded the Close, setting up his artillery on this high ground north of the cathedral close.

Within two weeks, Prince Rupert had captured the Close for King Charles. During this siege, the bombardment from the platform proved ineffective, and Prince Rupert recruited miners to tunnel beneath the north-west tower, where they laid the first land mines ever used in Britain.

The parliamentarian commander, Colonel Russell, surrendered on 21 April, and a Royalist garrison with Colonel Richard Bagot as governor took over.

A fragment of a mortar ball on display in the George and Dragon in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Prince Rupert, who was born in Prague, was the German or Bohemian (take your choice) grandson of James I and a nephew of Charles I. He passed through Lichfield again in March 1644 on his way to relieve Newark and once more on his way back.

Lichfield remained a royalist stronghold, supported by financial levies, donations, and money taken from the enemy, until 1646. On 9 March 1646, Sir William Brereton captured Lichfield and began a four-month siege of the Cathedral Close.

The besieged royalists used the central spire of the cathedral as a vantage point, and when they flaunted regimental colours and officers’ sashes from it on May Day, it became a symbol of resistance in the eyes of the parliamentarians.

Brereton bombarded the cathedral for five days, and on 12 May the central tower collapsed, damaging the choir and nave. However, the royalist garrisons in the Close continued to resist even after the fall of Oxford on 26 June and only surrendered on 10 July, marching out on 16 July.

The cathedral was desecrated by the parliamentarians in 1643, when its glass, statues and organs were destroyed. The final siege left it in ruins, along with the Bishop’s Palace and many of the houses in the Close. The looting that followed brought about further destruction.

Beacon Street was burnt by the royalists during the final siege to deprive the attackers of cover, and 52 houses there belonging to the vicars choral were destroyed, although some had been rebuilt by 1649.

With the destruction of the cathedral in 1646, centuries of religious custom came to an end, for the next 14 years the cathedral was ‘a place of ruin, inhabited by squatters and haunted by owls a night,’ according to the local historian Howard Clayton.

A portrait of Prince Rupert in the George and Dragon in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Meanwhile, what happened to Prince Rupert? In English folklore, he remains the archetypal cavalier. But he was quarrelsome and difficult, and regularly fell out with both his uncle Charles I and with his fellow royalist officers

After the civil war, he became a pirate in the Caribbean and a slave trader, but he returned to England after his cousin Charles II was restored to the throne, and gained a new reputation for his scientific explorations and discoveries. Samuel Pepys regarded him as the finest tennis player in England. He died in 1682 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

His sister was the mother of George I, and so the British monarchy passed to a line of German princelings from Hanover.

Apart from Prince Rupert’s Mound in Lichfield, he also gave his name to Prince Rupert’s Land in Canada, to the towns of Prince Rupert in British Columbia and Edmonton, and to the Rupert River in Quebec.

Prince Rupert’s Land no longer exists. The Hudson’s Bay Company sold most of Prince Rupert’s Land to Canada in 1869-1870. The territory was later parcelled out to Manitoba, Saskatchewan, southern Alberta, southern Nunavut, northern parts of Ontario and Quebec, as well as parts of Minnesota and North Dakota, and small portions of Montana and South Dakota.

Today, Prince Rupert’s Mound behind the George and Dragon is a Scheduled Monument and Lichfield District Council lists it as an important historic site within the designated character area of Gaia Lane.

The George and Dragon reopened in Lichfield last month after being closed for eight months (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The George and Dragon is a popular community pub, and it reopened last month (17 June 2023) after being taken over by the woman who lives next door.

Jenni Walls became the new landlady of the George and Dragon after it had been closed for eight months. She was originally a medical secretary, and she gained experience in the trade running premises in Tamworth in recent years.

Of course, there were teething problems as the place reopened, including a leak in the cellar and storage space due to heavy rain on Beacon Street, forcing the place to remain closed for days. But reopening the George and Dragon has also created eight jobs.

The George and Dragon enjoyed so much success on the day it opened once again that every draught product was a sell-out.

‘The George and Dragon was a lovely little pub when I first moved in,’ Jenni Walls told local media. ‘But it wasn’t looked after in the end. I seized the opportunity to take it on and thought it would be nice because I could run it the way I wanted to.’

I lingered in the afternoon summer sunshine on the grassy mount, with reflections of the cathedral filling my glass, before leaving in time for Choral Evensong in Lichfield Cathedral.

The George and Dragon enjoyed so much success on the day it reopened that every draught product was a sell-out (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (50) 17 July 2023

Saint Michael’s Church in Sneem, Co Kerry, is formally dedicated to the Most Holy Trinity and Saint Michael (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

We are in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar, and this week began with the Sixth Sunday after Trinity (16 July 2023).

Before this day begins, I am taking some time this morning for prayer, reading and reflection.

Over these weeks after Trinity Sunday, I have been reflecting each morning in these ways:

1, Looking at relevant images or stained glass window in a church, chapel or cathedral I know;

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

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Saint Michael’s Church stands above the east bank of the River Sneem (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Church of the Holy Trinity and Saint Michael, Sneem, Co Kerry:

Sneem is on the Ring of Kerry, on the banks of the River Sneem, on the road between Kenmare and Waterville. The Roman Catholic parish church is generally known as Saint Michael’s Church, but its formal dedication is to the Most Holy Trinity and Saint Michael. The church stands on the east bank of the river, with spectacular views of the River Sneem as it falls below the below the bridge and opens out on its way into Kenmare Bay.

The first known Roman Catholic church in Sneem was built on the site in the early 19th century. There has been a church in Kilcrohane or Sneem since at least the 14th century, and the first Roman Catholic parish church and the Church of Ireland parish church, the Church of the Transfiguration, may have been built at the same time, ca 1810.

This early church was small, with a mud floor and no pews, and was unable to meet the needs of the village.

Edwin Richard Wyndham-Quin (1812-1871), 3rd Earl of Dunraven, had become a Roman Catholic in 1855. He lived at Adare Manor, and was renting a holiday home near Sneem on Garnish Island, from the Bland family. He became appalled by the condition of the small church in Sneem, and in 1855 he resolved to build a fitting place for divine worship at his own expense.

He commissioned a leading London architect, Philip Charles Hardwick (1822-1892), who was then working on rebuilding Adare Manor, to build a new church in Sneem. Hardwick’s other works included the Bank of England, Saint John’s Cathedral, Limerick, the Redemptorist church at Mount Saint Alphonsus in Limerick, and the parish churches in Adare, Co Limerick.

The design for the new church in Sneem was cruciform, and in the Italian style, with the length from the chancel to nave 100 ft, and the breadth across the transepts 74 feet. The cost of the project was estimated at £3,000 in the Dublin Builder on 15 September 1863. But it had soared 33 per cent by 4 August 1865, when the Dublin Builder reported that Lord Dunraven had spent the ‘princely sum of £4,000.’

The demolition of the old church began in 1861, and Denis William Murphy (1799-1863), from Bantry, Co Cork, was the building contractor. But Murphy died suddenly before the foundation stone was laid. His eldest son William Martin Murphy (1845-1919), then a mere 19-year-old, took over the business and completed the building.

William Martin Murphy laid the foundations for a fortune that he would build on by building railways and tram-tracks in England, Scotland and Argentina. He established the Irish Independent, was manager of the Dublin United Tramways Company, and played a controversial and antagonistic role in the workers’ strike and lockout in Dublin of 1913. He became the most hated man in Ireland before the outbreak of World War I.

The Bishop of Kerry, David Moriarty, blessed the foundation stone of the church in Sneem on 3 September 1863. He wrote in his diary that day: ‘Blessed the first stone on the new church in Sneem in honorem Sanctissimae Trinitatis et Sancti Michaelis Archangeli. Lord Dunraven, who donated the money for the church, was present. Dominus conservet eum et beatus faciat illium in terra! Father Michael Walsh, the most venerable of Irish priests PP, and Father Davis CC. A joyous day, bonfire and illuminations at night: I preached in English, and Archdeacon O’Sullivan in Irish. Lord Dunraven gave a very appropriate speech.’

The Parish Priest of Sneem, Father Michael Walsh, was the subject of ‘Father O’Flynn,’ a celebrated ballad by the poet and songwriter, Arthur Perceval Graves (1846-1931). Graves was a son of Charles Graves (1812-1899), who had a summer residence home nearby at Parknasilla and who became Bishop of Limerick (1866-1899).

Local people packed the village for the ceremony that began at 1 pm. The bishop and several clergy assembled on the Fair Green. The bishop led a procession to the site, and there they met the Earl of Dunraven. After the bishop preached, he blessed the foundation stone. Archdeacon O’Sullivan from Kenmare then stood on the foundation stone and spoke in Irish.

Lord Dunraven said he had travelled all over Ireland before deciding that Sneem was the place to build his holiday retreat. He recalled first going to Mass in the old church, and that while he was having his house built with every comfort, the House of God was ‘left desolate and in ruin.’ He praised the Bland family for leasing the site for the church, more land to plant the grounds, and refusing to take rent for the land. The original lease was for 91 years from Saint Michael’s Day, 29 September 1864, at a rent of one shilling a year.

The contractors completed their work in less than two years. Bishop Moriarty returned to Sneem to open the new church on 27 July 1865 and to confirm 271 children.

In his diary on that date he wrote: ‘Blessed the church of Sneem sub invocatione SS Trinitatis et S Michaelis Archangeli. Doctor Butler celebrated High Mass. I preached. Lord Dunraven, the founder, was present, with Mr Maunsell and Mr S de Vere, Father Michael Walsh PP, Father Thomas Davis CC. Great festivities that evening in the village; confirmed 271. Well prepared.’

Dr George Butler (1815-1866) was the Bishop of Limerick (1864-1866); Maunsell was Dunraven’s brother-in-law, William Monsell (1812-1894) MP for Limerick (1847-1874) and later Lord Emly (1874); and Sir Stephen Edward de Vere (1812-1904) of Curraghchase, who was MP for Co Limerick (1854-1859), had become a Roman Catholic in 1847 and was a brother of the poet Aubrey de Vere (1814-1902), who is buried in Saint Mary’s churchyard in Askeaton.

Father Walsh entertained the guests to dinner in his presbytery. To cope with the numbers, he borrowed cutlery and crockery from his friend Dean Charles Graves of Parknasilla, then Dean of the Chapel Royal, Dublin, and of Saint Brendan’s Cathedral, Clonfert, and about to become Church of Ireland Bishop of Limerick in 1865. Dean Graves was a guest too at the celebrations that night. Whenever Father Walsh entertained his own bishop, it is said, he would borrow the quality tableware from the Graves household, but never let the bishop know he was dining off ‘Protestant plates.’

Press reports said Lord Dunraven and the other dignitaries left at 11 pm. But the parishioners continued the festivities until the next morning. One account said that during the whole night there was not the least sign of disorder, and not a single man was to be seen with the signs of liquor on him.

Father Walsh died a year after the new church was completed and after a 37-year ministry in Sneem.

Saint Michael’s Church is a listed building. It is a cruciform-plan double-height Italianate style church, and it is oriented on a west-east axis rather that the traditional east-west liturgical axis. There is a three-bay double-height chancel at the west end, a three-bay double-height nave, single-bay double-height transepts, and a single-bay, three-stage tower that was renovated 1892.

The rubble stone walls have their original buttered mortar joints, and sandstone quoins with cement replacements at the lower levels. There are round-headed lancet windows with sandstone surrounds, including paired lancets in the nave. The round-headed doorways have sandstone surrounds and limestone steps.

Inside, the church has an open-truss roof, round arches in the transepts on circular columns, stained-glass windows and a marble font.

Major work was carried out on the roof in the early 1950s, and the church was reordered following the liturgical changes introduced by Vatican II, including the removal of the altar rails in the 1970s. Further restoration work was carried out in the 1980s.

The parish priest, Father Pat Murphy, launched an appeal in 2009 to raise €1 million for major renovation works.

The roof was insulated and re-slated, underfloor insulation and modern heating were installed, the floor was renewed – uncovering a Victorian mosaic – and the joints in the external walls were repointed. The lighting and sound systems were upgraded, wheelchair and vehicular access were provided, and the former ‘Nuns’ Chapel’ or ‘small church’ as it was known, was transformed into the sacristy. A new spacious entrance now faces the village. These recent renovations cost €1.2 million in total.

The present parish priest of Sneem is Father Liam O’Brien.

The round-headed main door has sandstone surrounds and limestone steps (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 10: 34 to 11: 1 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 34 ‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
35 For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
36 and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

40 ‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41 Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; 42 and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple – truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.’

1 Now when Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and proclaim his message in their cities.

Inside Saint Michael’s Church, Sneem, facing the liturgical east (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayer:

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘Abundant life – A human right.’ This theme was introduced yesterday.

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (17 July 2023) invites us to pray in these words:

Loving God we pray for the Filipino Church – for all their important work alongside Indigenous communities. May they be empowered to strive towards dignity and freedom for all.

Saint Michael’s Church, Sneem, has an open-truss roof and round arches in the transepts on circular columns (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)


Merciful God,
you have prepared for those who love you
such good things as pass our understanding:
pour into our hearts such love toward you
that we, loving you in all things and above all things,
may obtain your promises,
which exceed all that we can desire;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion:

God of our pilgrimage,
you have led us to the living water:
refresh and sustain us
as we go forward on our journey,
in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

A stained-glass window in Saint Michael’s Church, Sneem, depicts the life of Saint Brendan the Navigator (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

Saint Michael and two whales depicted in the Saint Brendan window in Sneem (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)