An Irishman's Diary


The 400th anniversary of the death of Archbishop Adam Loftus on April 5th, 1605, is being marked with commemorative events including a service tomorrow in St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, where he was once dean, special events in Trinity College Dublin, where he was the first Provost, and a paper in the journal Search by Dr Helga Robinson-Hammerstein.

Loftus was talented but zealous and his life in Ireland was marked by intrigue and controversy. He was Archbishop of Armagh, Archbishop of Dublin, Dean of St Patrick's Cathedral, the principal figure in the foundation of Trinity College Dublin and, as Lord Chancellor of Ireland, was effectively the Prime Minister or Taoiseach of the day. Loftus could be ruthless when faced by his enemies: he had no hesitation in having men, women and children put to the sword, and he was responsible for torturing the saintly Archbishop Dermot O'Hurley in 1584.

As Archbishop of Dublin, Loftus had official residences at the Palace of St Sepulchre, close to St Patrick's Cathedral, and at Tallaght Castle. St Sepulchre's has been largely demolished, with its remaining parts difficult to discern today in Kevin Street Garda Station; Tallaght Castle, which was demolished in the 19th century, stood on the site of the present Dominican Priory. If these two grand residences no longer remain, Loftus is also remembered in south Co Dublin as the builder of both Rathfarnham Castle and Knocklyon Castle. He was also the proprietor of vast estates in the Rathfarnham and Tallaght area, including Scholarstown, Oldcourt, Tymon, Woodtown, Killakee, Ballycragh, Ballycullen and Mount Pelier Hill.

The Loftus family took their name from Lofthouse in Yorkshire, and at least one branch of the family dates back to 1273. But, despite later claims to grandeur, Adam's ancestry can be traced with certainty only to his father, Edward Loftus, a monastic bailiff in the Yorkshire Dales. Adam was born in 1533, and he and his elder brother, Robert Loftus, who followed him to Ireland, were the ancestors of a family that was among the most influential in Irish politics.

As an undergraduate at Cambridge, Adam reportedly attracted the attention of the young Queen Elizabeth I. There is no good reason to believe this meeting ever took place, but Elizabeth became his patron and tolerated many of his religious and political decisions throughout her reign, though he appears to have disagreed with her on many fundamental points. Loftus was an ardent Puritan who found common cause with Calvinists in Geneva in Scotland, while Elizabeth sought a compromise that would see moderate Catholics and Protestants embraced in Anglicanism.

He was only 26 when he was sent to Ireland in 1560 as chaplain to the Lord Deputy, Lord Essex. Within a year he was married in St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin to 20-year-old Jane Purdon from Co Louth. Within a few generations their descendants were scattered through every class and walk of life in Ireland.

In 1561, at the age of 28, Adam was appointed Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland. Because of his age, and because Armagh was in the tight grip of Shane O'Neill, the consecration was delayed until January 20th, 1563. Shane O'Neill ensured that Loftus never moved to Armagh; instead he lived in Dublin and at the Primate's country residence at Termonfeckin, north of Drogheda.

Loftus had no qualms about holding more than one office at a time, and when he became Dean of St Patrick's in 1565, the appointment was said to be "in lieu of better times ahead". Within two years, Archbishop Hugh Curwen was called back to England and Loftus became Archbishop of Dublin, Bishop of Glendalough, and Primate of Ireland. He was still only 34.

By 1573, Loftus was also active in secular politics, becoming Lord High Keeper of the Great Seal, a position akin to today's Cabinet Secretary or, perhaps, Chief Whip. Five years later, he became Lord High Chancellor of Ireland. He held that office while remaining Archbishop of Dublin until his death in 1605.

By the early 1580s, Loftus had his eyes on the castle and estate of Rathfarnham, forfeited during the Desmond rebellion by Viscount Baltinglass, who was convicted of high treason. Rathfarnham Castle was a mere ruin and Rathfarnham was a "waste village", but Loftus acquired the estate in 1589 and rebuilt Rathfarnham Castle as one of the finest residences in Co Dublin.

When Trinity College Dublin was founded, Loftus saw yet another opportunity to promote the Reformation, which was losing ground to the Counter-Reformation from Rome. Once again he looked after his own interests and became the first Provost of Trinity in 1592. It was thanks too to Loftus that St Patrick's Cathedral was saved at this time: there had been a proposal to use the cathedral and its lands for the new university, but thanks to Loftus the new college was built on lands confiscated at the Reformation from the Priory of All Hallows.

At 71, Adam Loftus died, "worn out with age", in St Sepulchre's. Adam and Jane are buried with 16 of their descendants in the Loftus vault in St Patrick's. They had 20 children in all, and within only a few decades their descendants were found even among the Catholic Irish in Co Wexford, fighting on the side of the Confederation of Kilkenny and the Irish rebels in the turmoils of the 1640s and 1650s.