An Irishman's Diary


When a new telephone directory arrives, do you quickly check your own entry? Why do I do it? I hardly need to check how to spell my name, or to check my number, in case I need to ring myself when I'm out. But we all do it.

And so, I could hardly let old habits die when I acquired a large, handsome, 1,200-page directory and listing of the clergy of Dublin and Glendalough - a record covering thousands of clergy over almost 1,000 years.

To my surprise, others with my name had family ties with the clergy of the dioceses in past generations. There was Patrick Comerford of Summerville, Co Cork, father-in-law of the Rev Francis Law (1768-1807), of Newcastle, Co Wicklow. His sons included the Rev Patrick Comerford Law, who was born in 1798, while his sons-in-law included Alexander Arbuthnot, Bishop of Killaloe in the early 19th century.

High School teacher

Mr Ronnie Wallace's new book, Clergy of Dublin and Glendalough, has been a labour of love for the former history master since he retired from The High School, Dublin, in 1996. But it is a book that is more than five years in the making, for it is based on three manuscript volumes, compiled by the late Canon J.B. Leslie in the first half of the 20th century.

Leslie's work, much of it still waiting to be published, is a valuable resource for church historians, and this latest work is the fourth in a series of modern revisions from the Ulster Historical Foundation, following the dioceses of Connor, Down and Dromore, Derry and Raphoe, and Armagh.

Mr Wallace's book makes fascinating reading. The characters span church life throughout Dublin, much of Co Wicklow and parts of Co Kildare and Co Wexford over the past millennium. But clergy inevitably moved throughout the island during their careers, and this book provides a microcosm of Irish church history.

The saintly bishops like Laurence O'Toole are here, and so too are those driven more by crass political and social ambition. I turned over the page from my own entry and found Nicholas Comyn, who had been excommunicated by Thomas Beckett, but still became Archbishop of Dublin before he was ever ordained - eventually the Pope ordained him priest a week before his consecration. Archbishop Alexander de Bickner was excommunicated for 12 years by the pope of the day, and Archbishop John Allen was murdered in Artane by Silken Thomas in 1534.

There were the Duke brothers, born John Hare Duck and William Hare Duck. Obviously embarrassed by the animal associations of their names, they agreed on a more regal alternative to their patronymic. But there are surprisingly few of the hyphenated Anglo-Irish, even among the most senior clergy. Most of them were ordinary, hard-working men from ordinary hard-working families: 35 Smiths, Smyths or Smythes, 23 with the name Walsh or Walshe, 22 Hamiltons, and 21 Whites.

Huguenots and Hungarians

There are Gaels, Anglo-Normans, Huguenots, Hungarians (Archdeacon John Wolpe or Vulpe), Jews from Poland (Moses Margoliouth) and Prague (Adolph Paul Weinberger), Italians (Michael Caesar Casella), a priest who was ordained by the Patriarch of Babylon, and another who was born in Valparaiso, Chile. And there is the strange story of Canon Ignatus George Abeltshauser, who was born in Strasbourg, came to Ireland after killing a man, and became Professor of Modern Languages in Trinity College Dublin prior to ordination.

Jonathan Swift is here, and so too are the novelist Charles Maturin, the historian Henry Cotton, and Dean John Robinson, former proprietor of the Dublin Daily Express. There is a full biographical entry for Canon James Hannay, with a listing of his spiritual writings but without a list of the novels he wrote under the pen name George A. Birmingham.

The turmoils of the Reformation are chronicled in the biographies of Archbishop George Browne, the Augustinian friar who introduced the Book of Common Prayer to Dublin, but was later deposed and forced to divorce his wife by Queen Mary, and Archbishop Nicholas Walsh, who introduced printing in Irish type but was murdered in his court in 1585.

No clear divisions

In the centuries that followed, the divisions were never as clearly defined as some would like to believe. Andrew Sall was Rector of the Irish College in Salamanca and Provincial of the Irish Jesuits before becoming a canon of St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, where he is buried. The O'Sullivan brothers, Mortimer and Samuel of "Souper Sullivan" fame, once served in the diocese. And William Maziere Brady, the church historian, became a Roman Catholic after Vatican I and ended his days as private secretary to the Pope.

There are full lists of the clergy of churches now closed, including St Mary's and the Free Church on the northside and St Kevin's and Harold's Cross on the southside. And there are many of the late and loveable characters of more recent years, including George Simms, Henry McAdoo, Billy Wynne, David Woodworth, Stephen Hilliard, Jim Hartin, Henry McAdoo and Maurice Carey.

This is an essential source book for church historians and local historians alike. Hopefully, the other dioceses of the Church of Ireland will be covered in the years to come, giving us a complete picture of all the clergy.