Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Ladies of the Garter

Ladies of the Garter or Thistle are styled "Lady" followed by their christian name and surname, unless they are peeresses.

The prefix "Lady" followed by the christian name normally only applies to the daughters of dukes, marquesses or earls.

Lady Mary Peters LG CH DBE is an example of this format.

Cambridges in Belfast

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are visiting Belfast, Ballymena, County Antrim, and County Fermanagh on a two day trip [27-28 February] that will celebrate the young people of Northern Ireland.

Day One will have a strong focus on the positive impact that sport, nature and the outdoors can have on childhood development, and improved physical and mental health for all.

Their Royal Highnesses will start the first day with a visit to Windsor Park football stadium, home of the Irish Football Association (IFA).

The IFA run outreach programmes that benefit the mental and physical health of local communities. ‘Shooting Stars’ encourages young girls to play football and ‘Ahead of the Game’ works to support clubs and volunteers when dealing with mental health issues, with a focus on challenging the stigma and preventative measures.

In County Fermanagh, TRH will see the incredible work that the charity Extern is doing at their Roscor Youth Village, which is a residential activity centre for children referred to the charity by social workers or the Department of Justice.

The site provides a safe space to help and support these young people, with particular emphasis on outdoor activities and developing independent living skills.

Ending the day back in Belfast at the iconic Empire Music Hall, Their Royal Highnesses will attend a party celebrating young people who are making a real difference in Northern Ireland.

The band LARKS will take to the stage, and guests will encompass representatives from Northern Ireland’s business, arts and sport sectors, including Lady Mary Peters who was today appointed Lady Companion of the Most Noble of the Garter by Her Majesty The Queen.

Lady Mary Peters

Dame Mary receiving insignia of CH in 2015

I am absolutely delighted for Lady Mary Peters, who is appointed a Lady Companion of the Order of the Garter.

Lady Mary joins the Duke of Abercorn and the Viscount Brookeborough as the third recipient of the Garter in Northern Ireland today.

The Queen has been pleased to appoint LADY MARY ELIZABETH PETERS to be a Lady Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, and the Marquess of Salisbury to be a Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter.

The appointment of the Knights and Ladies of the Garter is in The Queen's gift, without Prime Ministerial advice.

Appointments to the Order of the Garter are therefore in the same category as the Order of the Thistle, the Order of Merit and the Royal Victorian Order. Today's announcement brings the number of Companions to twenty-three (out of a maximum of twenty-four).

Dame Mary Peters, CH, DBE (born 6 July 1939) served as Her Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant of the County Borough of Belfast between 2009 and 2014.

In the 1972 summer Olympics in Munich, Dame Mary won the Gold Medal in the pentathlon.

In 1975, she established the Mary Peters Trust to support talented young sportsmen and women across Northern Ireland. 

The Most Hon Robert Michael James, Marquess of Salisbury, KCVO, PC, DL (born 30 September 1946) is a former Leader of the House of Lords.

Lord Salisbury is a Deputy Lieutenant of Hertfordshire, and was Chairman of the Thames Diamond Jubilee Foundation, which organised the Diamond Jubilee Pageant on the River Thames in 2012.

Lord Salisbury is also Chancellor of the University of Hertfordshire.

Monday, 25 February 2019

Harristown House


The family of LA TOUCHE was established in Ireland by

DAVID DIGUES DE LA TOUCHE (1671-1745), a Huguenot, who settled in that kingdom after the revocation of the edict of Nantes, having served first as volunteer, and afterwards as lieutenant and captain in Princess Anne's infantry regiment.

Mr La Touche was the fourth son of a noble Protestant family of the Blésois, which possessed considerable estates between Blois and Orléans, and in other parts of France.

He first fled to Holland, where a branch of his family had for some time been established, and shortly afterwards embarking with the Prince of Orange, served the Irish campaign under him.

At the conclusion of the war, Mr La Touche, like many of his countrymen, settled in Dublin.

He married twice: By his second wife he had no sons; by the first, who he wedded in 1690, Judith, daughter of Noé Biard, and Judith Chevalier his wife, he had issue,
DAVID, his heir;
James Digges;
Jane; Judith.
Mr La Touche was succeeded in the bank which he had established in Dublin by his eldest son,

DAVID LA TOUCHE (1703-85), who had been educated in Holland with his relation, Digues de la Motte, at Rotterdam.

He espoused, in 1724-5, Mary Anne, daughter of Gabriel Canasille, and had issue,
Gabriel David, dsp;
DAVID (Rt Hon), of Marlay;
JOHN, of whom hereafter;
Peter, of Bellevue;
Mary Anne; Martha; Elizabeth; Judith.
Mr La Touche's second surviving son,

JOHN LA TOUCHE (1732-1810), of Harristown, MP for Newcastle, 1783-90, Newtownards, 1790-6, Harristown, 1797-1800, married, in 1765, Gertrude FitzGerald, daughter of Robert Uniacke, of County Cork, who took the name and arms of FITZGERALD, and had issue,
ROBERT, his heir;
John, MP for County Leitrim;
Gertrude; Marianne.
The elder son,

ROBERT LA TOUCHE (1773-1844), of Harristown, MP for Harristown, 1794-1800, wedded, in 1810, the Lady Emily Le Poer Trench, youngest daughter of William, 1st Earl of Clancarty, and had issue,
JOHN, his heir;
Anne; Gertrude; Emily.
Mr La Touche was succeeded by his eldest son,

JOHN LA TOUCHE JP DL (1814-1904), of Harristown, High Sheriff of County Kildare, 1846, Leitrim, 1859, who married, in 1843, Maria, only child of Ross Lambart Price, of Cornwall, by his wife, Catherine, Dowager Countess of Desart, and had issue,
Emily Maria; Rose Lucy.
His eldest son,

ROBERT PERCY O'CONNOR LA TOUCHE JP (1846-1921), wedded, in 1870, the Lady Annette
Louise, second daughter of John, 3rd Earl of Clonmell, though the marriage was without issue, and he was succeeded by his sister,

EMILY MARIA LA TOUCHE (1846-68), who espoused, in 1865, Lieutenant-General the Hon Bernard Matthew Ward, son of 3rd Viscount Bangor, and had issue,

HARRISTOWN HOUSE, near Brannockstown, County Kildare, was purchased by the La Touche family in 1768 and a spacious Georgian mansion was erected by Whitmore Davis in a dominant position overlooking the River Liffey.

The old house of three stories was destroyed in 1891 and a smaller two storey house sits well in its place.

The diocesan architect, James Franklin Fuller, oversaw the restoration of the house at the same time that he rebuilt the small parish church at the entrance to the estate.

The omission of the third storey allows for an unusual amount of light into the house through a cleverly constructed lantern light; thus the move from the airy and bright downstairs rooms is complemented by a rush of light from the upstairs hallway.

Another interesting feature is the tunnel that runs underground for some eighty yards from the stable yard into the basement.

Carnalway church is adjacent to the front entrance of the estate and Fuller rebuilt it in the Hiberno- Romanesque style similar to that of his masterpiece at Millicent.

The church also has stained-glass windows by Harry Clarke and Sir Ninian Comper.

The La Touches were bankers, weavers and politicians.

The partners of La Touche Bank were the original stockholders of the Bank of Ireland, which opened for business in 1783.

The second generation of the La Touches in Ireland included John, who built Harristown House.

His descendants occupied the house until 1921.

The last John La Touche, of Harristown, died in 1904.

The estate was bought in 1946 by Major Michael Beaumont (father of the Lord Beaumont of Whitley), who set about restoring Harristown to its former glory.

They completely renovated the house and installed furniture and pictures from their former home, Wootton, in Buckinghamshire, the interior of which had been designed by Sir John Soane.

On the ground floor the ceilings stand eighteen feet high and the front hall is a magnificent double room off which open the three main reception rooms the library, drawing room and dining room.

However, the best kept secret of this house is the 16th Century Chinese Wallpaper in a sitting room leading off the drawing room which depicts birds in strong vibrant colours.

Among the other curiosities are an upstairs room finished in oak panelling taken from a Tudor house in England; and a set of French Empire pelmets.

Harristown Estate was for sale in 2016.

First published in February, 2012.

James Joseph Magennis VC


James Joseph McGinnes (later spelled Magennis) was born on 27 October, 1919, at 4 Majorca Street, Belfast.

He was the only Northern Irishman to be awarded the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest award ‘for valour in the face of the enemy’, during the second World War.

He attended St Finian’s primary School on the Falls Road in West Belfast until 3rd June, 1935, when he enlisted in the Royal Navy as a boy seaman.

Majorca Street, Belfast. Click to Enlarge

He served on several different warships including HMS Kandahar which struck a mine off the coast of Tripoli, Libya, in December 1941 and was irreparably damaged and scuttled.

In 1942 Magennis was drafted into the Submarine service, and in March, 1943, he volunteered for “special and hazardous duties” which meant serving in midget submarines known as X-craft, about 50-feet long and weighing about 130 tons, with a crew of 4 men.

He trained as a diver and in September, 1943, took part in the first major use of X-craft during Operation Source, penetrating Kafjord, Norway, and disabling the German battleship Tirpitz.

He and the other crewmen of the two midget submarines which took part in the attack were Mentioned in Despatches “for bravery and devotion to duty.”

In July 1945, as Allied forces moved to recover Singapore from the Japanese, Acting Leading Seaman Magennis was serving as the diver on the midget submarine HMS XE3 which was tasked, under the codename Operation Struggle, with sinking the 10,000-ton Japanese cruiser Takao.

She had been damaged in the Battle of the Phillipines in 1944, had limped to Singapore and was berthed in the Straits of Johor, between Malaysia and Singapore , as an anti-aircraft battery.

On 30th July, 1945, XE3 was towed to the operational area by the submarine Stygian.

She slipped her tow at 23:00 and made a 40-mile journey through minefields, hazardous wrecks and hydrophone listening posts to reach the Takao, arriving at 1300 on 31 July.

XE3’s commanding officer, Lieutenant Ian Frazer, placed his craft directly under the keel of Takao with only one-foot of head-room.

Magennis exited from the ‘wet and dry’ chamber with great difficulty because of the restricted space and detached 6 limpet mines (so-called because their magnets were intended to make them stick to the hull of their targets like limpets to a rock) from the limpet carriers on one side of the submarine.

He then found that barnacles on Takao’s hull prevented the mines from getting a proper magnetic grip on the hull and he had to scrape off barnacles with his knife to make room for each of the mines.

He also tied the mines in pairs and placed one of the pair on each side of the keel spread along 45-feet of the cruiser’s hull.

All this time, his ‘frogman’ breathing apparatus was leaking air and sending a tell-tale stream of bubbles to the surface.

In the meantime, the Takao had slowly settled with the tide and XE3 was trapped under her bilge keel.

After much thrashing of the motor and pumping water, XE3 freed herself.

On Magennis’s return to XE3, the crew used hand wheels to drop the two side-cargoes off the midget submarine, one full of two tons of high explosive and the other the now flooded empty limpet carriers.

The explosive cargo dropped away but one of the limpet carriers was stuck to the hull.

Magennis, although exhausted, immediately volunteered to free this limpet carrier, saying “I’ll be alright as soon as I’ve got my wind, Sir.”

He put on his breathing apparatus again, exited the submarine and released the limpet-carrier by hand after seven minutes work with a heavy spanner.

On his return, XE3 started the 40-mile return journey back to HMS Stygian.

At 21:30, some, but not all, of the limpet mines exploded and blew a 23 feet by 10 feet hole in the starboard side of Takao’s hull.

Her keel buckled, the blast disabled her gun turrets and damaged her rangefinder but she did not sink.

Magennis Memorial, Belfast City Hall

On 13th November, 1945, a citation was published in the London Gazette that “the King has been graciously pleased to approve the award of the Victoria Cross for valour to Acting Leading Seaman James Joseph Magennis”.

The detailed citation recited the difficulties he had faced and observed that “a lesser man would have been content to place a few limpets and then to return”. It concluded that “Magennis displayed very great courage and devotion to duty and complete disregard for his own safety”.

The Commanding Officer of XE3, Lieutenant Frazer, who was also awarded a VC for his part in the attack, was reported as saying that “Jim gave me bother from time to time. He liked his tot of rum but he was a lovely man and a fine diver. I have never met a braver man.”

James Magennis left the Royal Navy in 1949 and returned to live in Belfast.

LS Magennis presented with a Cheque by the Rt Hon Sir Crawford McCullagh Bt,
Lord Mayor of Belfast, on 19th January, 1946

A public collection was held for him called a Shilling Fund (a shilling was one-twentieth of a £, 12 old pence, 5 new pence) which raised £3,600 [about £121,000 in today's money].

He left Belfast in 1955 when he moved to Yorkshire, where he worked as an electrician.

He died on 11th February, 1986, hours before his heroism was honoured by the Royal Navy Philatelic Office with a first-day cover.

Click to Enlarge

There are memorial plaques to him in Belfast and in Bradford.

A six-foot high memorial statue, made of Portland Stone and bronze, was placed outside Belfast City Hall in October 1999.

His Victoria Cross has been on display in the Ashcroft Gallery of the Imperial War Museum, London, since 2010.

Friday, 22 February 2019

City Hall Visit

I was in two minds as to my choice of attire yesterday.

Was it to be the herringbone tweed jacket and suede shoes, or the worsted grey chalk-stripe suit?

Eventually I settled on a compromise: the suit, with woollen tie and chukka boots.

I usually wear a suit or overcoat in town at any rate.

If you have been following the Belmont narrative, you will know that I attended the old school dinner several weeks ago in the Ulster Reform Club, where I sat beside Jeff Dudgeon, MBE, who happens to be a Belfast city councillor.

Jeff asked me if I'd been on one of his City Hall tours.

I had not.

So after breakfast yesterday morning I dressed in the glad rags, jumped into the jalopy, and made a bee-line for the City Hall.

This magnificent civic edifice is located at Donegall Square, so I motored into the inner courtyard and found a space.

Without elaborating too much, the City Hall is a grand, ornate, quadrilateral pile made of Portland stone, about 300 feet wide and 174 feet high, with a splendid copper dome.

It is one of the most impressive civic buildings in the British Isles, took ten years to construct, and was completed in 1906.

The interior has abundant Greek and Italian marble, a fine banqueting hall, and a large mural symbolizing Belfast's industrial heritage.

Most of the ground floor has become an exhibition space now.

A civic lamp-posts is displayed.

A pair of ornate lampposts used to be erected outside Lord Mayors' homes, whether they happened to be on the Shankill Road or Malone Park!

Even the Lord Mayor's ceremonial robe is on display in a glass cabinet.

Jeff and I ascended the grand staircase (he pointed out a section of the plasterwork requiring a bit of attention), past many historical items on the walls, and portraits of former Lord Mayors.

The cherub is not amused.

The Lord Mayor has a particularly distinctive robe, made of black silk satin and emblematic gold lace, with white lace cuffs and jabot, white gloves, tricorn hat, and of course the golden chain-of-office.

Most Lord Mayors are far too bolshy to wear it today, even for ceremonial occasions.

We spent some time in the opulent Council Chamber on the first floor, which has the Lord Mayor's chair at one end and the royal dais at the other.

The Royal Dais

Plentiful wood panelling, stained glass, plush carpet and exquisite plasterwork adorn this room.

The stain-glass windows include the armorial bearings of the Marquess of Londonderry, the Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, and the City of Belfast.

Alderman Tommy Patton OBE, Lord Mayor, 1982-3

Jeff showed me the Robing Room, something similar in size to a large billiards-room, with a large table and wooden lockers for the councillors' robes.

Sir Edward Coey DL, Mayor, 1861-2

The city's silver mace and the Lord Mayor's robe (or one of them) are displayed here.

Before I departed, Jeff took me into his offices, where we had delicious chunks of fruit (pineapple, melon, grape) on wooden sticks.

I'll revisit the permanent exhibition, perhaps this summer.

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

The Lost Caravaggio: II

Photo Credit: National Gallery of Ireland

THE leading expert in Baroque paintings and specialist in Caravaggio was Sir Denis Mahon, an art historian and collector of Baroque paintings, who had twice been a Trustee of the National Gallery London.

At this time he was 82-years old and had spent his entire adult life studying Baroque paintings.

When the restoration was complete he was invited to visit Dublin, was led to the Restoration Studio, shown the painting on an easel, studied it closely, ‘nose to canvas’, and was asked who was the painter?

In a matter of minutes he said ‘Caravaggio’.

He later explained that he was persuaded by the ‘masterly’ painting of the hands in the picture, objects which many artists find particularly difficult to portray. 

WITH an attribution by Sir Denis Mahon of the ‘Honthorst’ painting as a genuine Caravaggio its estimated market value in 1993 was as much as £50 million.

The Jesuit community decided that, having received it as a gift from Dr. Lea-Wilson, now dead, they held it on a charitable trust and were not free to sell it.

They retain ownership but placed it on permanent loan to the National Gallery of Ireland.

BUT is it really the original of The Taking of Christ by Caravaggio or a variation on the original by Caravaggio himself or even a very good copy of the original by another artist such as Honthorst? 

The original painting had been commissioned in Rome in 1602 by its richest citizen, Ciriaco Mattei.

Caravaggio was then living in his palace and painted at least three paintings for him.

Ciriaco was a meticulous book-keeper and his account books, in his own hand, show four payments to Caravaggio, seemingly based on the size of the paintings, including a payment in 1603 of 125 scudi (enough to rent a house in Rome for three years) ‘for a painting with its frame of Christ taken in the Garden’.

This refers to St. Mark’s Gospel description of Judas betraying Christ to soldiers with a kiss.

THE Mattei family’s wealth diminished in the following two centuries.

Family inventories of possessions became less specific.

The painting of ‘The Taking of Christ’ was attributed to Caravaggio until 1753 when a new inventory described a painting as ‘The Betrayal by Judas’.

A 1786 guidebook called ‘An Instructive Inventory of Rome’ by one Guiseppe Vasi was replete with errors and attributed the ‘Taking’ picture to Gherardo della Notte.

Whoever prepared the 1793 Mattei inventory appears to have drawn on Vasi as his source, rather than previous family inventories.

The painting in the Mattei family’s possession was attributed for the first time in the 1793 inventory to Gherardo delle Notti.

Was this the Caravaggio? 

IN 1798, when Napoleon invaded Northern Italy, he imposed heavy taxes on landowners to pay for his army.

The Mattei family had to sell assets to pay these taxes.

In 1802 they sold six paintings to a very wealthy Scotsman called William Hamilton Nisbet, including one which had been labelled as ‘The Taking of Christ’ by Honthorst.

An export licence was obtained for the six paintings which again refers to the painting being by Honthorst.

The six paintings purchased from the Mattei Palace in Rome in 1802 remained in the Hamilton Nisbet family’s possession until 1921.

IN that year, the last direct descendant of William Hamilton Nisbet was his great-granddaughter Constance Ogilvy.

She offered 31 of her family’s paintings to the National Gallery of Scotland which took all but three of them.

The rejected three included the Honthorst.

Together with other family paintings from ‘the Mansion-House of Biel, East Lothian’ it went to auction at Dowell’s in Edinburgh on 16 April 1921.

An annotated catalogue for that sale shows £8-8-0 beside the entry for ‘The Betrayal of Christ’ by Gerard Honthorst.

THE paper trail for Caravaggio’s painting from the Mattei Palace in Rome in 1603 to Dowell’s auction house in Edinburgh in 1921 is not perfect but is convincing.

It is supplemented by the oral history of Dr Lea-Wilson acquiring the painting in Edinburgh in the 1920s, giving it to the Jesuits in the 1930s and the painting going to the NGI in 1990.

THERE are at least twelve known versions of Caravaggio’s painting.

Two of them are claimed to be the original of ‘The Taking of Christ’, one in Odessa in the Ukraine and another which was bought from the Sannini family in Florence, Italy, by a Roman art dealer in 2003.

The Odessa painting is probably a copy of the Caravaggio made for Ciriaco Mattei’s brother Asdurabale by an artist called Giovanni di Attile for which he was paid 12 scudi.

Sir Denis Mahon described the fingers in the Odessa painting as being like ‘sausages’, not typical of Caravaggio’s best work.

Although Sir Denis thought that the Sannini painting was one of a series of the same subject painted by Caravaggio, its claim became doubtful in 2008 when analysis of its pigments showed traces of ‘Naples Yellow’, a paint not known to have been used until 1615, five years after Caravaggio’s death.

ON balance, the paper trail from Rome to Edinburgh, the oral history in Dublin and Sir Denis Mahon’s attribution to Caravaggio, indicate that ‘The Taking of Christ’ painting in the NGI is the original painting commissioned by Ciriaco Mattei in Rome in 1602.

Aldergrove Railway Station

It is entirely feasible that Aldergrove railway station, or a halt, could be re-opened in some shape or form.

Photo Credit:

This could serve Belfast International Airport.

Has this plan or proposal been supported by local government, former Northern Ireland Assembly Ministers, transport authorities, and Belfast International Airport?

Has the airport lobbied for or against such a proposal?

I wrote a piece about a rail link in 2008.

Monday, 18 February 2019

The Lost Caravaggio: I

Photo Credit: National Gallery of Ireland


IN 1993 the National Gallery of Ireland announced that it had found in Dublin and authenticated a missing Caravaggio painting known as ‘The Taking of Christ’.

How did it come to be in Dublin?

And is it really the missing Caravaggio painting of that subject? 

THE story of how the painting came to be in Dublin is both simple and tragic.

Percival Lea-Wilson was born into a middle-class family in Brompton, London, in April, 1887.

His grandfather Samuel Wilson had been Lord Mayor of the City of London in 1838, his father was a stockbroker.

Percival was educated at Winchester College and New College, Oxford.

He joined the Royal Irish Constabulary in 1909.

In 1914 he married Marie Ryan, daughter of a Cork solicitor, enlisted in the Royal Irish Rifles on the outbreak of war with Germany, and served on the Western Front where he was severely wounded.

He had re-joined the RIC by March 1916 and was stationed in Dublin during the Easter Rising.

HE was placed in charge of a group of Irish Republican prisoners who had surrendered and who were being kept at the Rotunda Hospital.

It is easy to imagine that a British officer who had himself been wounded and who had seen countless men killed in the war would not have had much sympathy for his prisoners who had rebelled against the Crown at a time when Britain was engaged in all-out war on land and sea, particularly as the Proclamation of the rebels had recited the support of their ‘gallant allies abroad’ i.e. the Germans who had supplied them with arms.

Republicans claimed that he mistreated his prisoners, particularly Thomas Clarke, at 59 the oldest man to have taken part in the Rising and first of the seven signatories to the Proclamation of Independence.

They alleged that Clark was stripped naked on the steps of the Rotunda Hospital, in front of the other prisoners (who included Michael Collins) and female nursing staff, and that Lea-Wilson had said ‘That old bastard is Commander-in-Chief. He keeps a tobacco shop across the street. Nice general for your f*****g army’. 

FOUR years later, on the morning of 15 June 1920, Lea-Wilson was a District Inspector of the RIC based in a quiet town, Gorey, County Wexford.

Dressed in civilian clothes, he walked home from the railway station where he had bought a newspaper and was shot dead by an IRA gang of five gunmen, including Liam Tobin, one of his Rotunda prisoners.

That evening, in the Wicklow Hotel in Dublin, Michael Collins met another Rotunda prisoner, Joe Sweeney, who had been elected as a Sinn Fein MP in 1918, asked if he remembered Lea-Wilson and said that ‘We got him today in Gorey’. 

HIS childless widow, Marie, was, of course, distraught at his murder.

The following year, 1921, aged 34, she started a course in medicine at Trinity College Dublin.

She graduated in 1928 and pursued a career as a paediatrician in the Children’s Hospital, Dublin which continued until her death in 1971 aged 84.

In 1921 she went on holiday to Edinburgh and while there bought a 16th century painting labelled as ‘The Betrayal of Christ’ by Gerard Honthorst

GERRIT VAN HONTHORST was a Dutchman, a painter of the Utrecht school, who had studied in Rome where he had been influenced by Caravaggio and used the same technique of chiaroscuro, a ‘dramatic mingling of light and dark’.

He is a respected Baroque artist who is said to have influenced Rembrandt and whose paintings are now held in the National Gallery and Hampton Court Palace in London, in the Getty museum and in the Museum of Art, both in Los Angeles, and three of his paintings hang in the National Gallery of Ireland. 

AN auction catalogue shows that this painting sold for 8 guineas (£8.40p) in Edinburgh in 1921.

It was large, 4 feet 4 inches by 5 feet 7 inches, and dark.

It then hung in the drawing room of Dr Lea-Wilson’s house in Fitzwilliam Place for the next ten years. 

Because of her distress at the murder of her husband, Marie had taken advice from a Father Thomas Finlay, a member of the Society of Jesus living in their community at 35 Lower Leeson Street, Dublin, and a Professor of Political Economy at University College Dublin.

He became ‘her friend, philosopher and guide’.

Sometime in the 1930’s she presented him with the Honthorst painting as thanks for his spiritual guidance and it hung for some years above the fireplace in the Jesuits’ dining room and later in their parlour until 1990.

IN that year, a new Superior of the community, Noel Barber, who had been commissioned to renovate the Leeson Street property, asked Dr Brian Kennedy, Assistant Director of the National Gallery of Ireland (NGI), to inspect the community’s collection of paintings.

Dr Kennedy agreed that the NGI would restore the Honthorst in return for the Jesuits making it available for exhibitions when required.

DR KENNEDY had brought with him to the Jesuits’ house the Gallery’s Assistant Restorer, an Italian named Sergio Benedetti.

On seeing the painting for the first time Mr. Benedetti, an enthusiast for Caravaggio, thought that it was either a very good copy of a Caravaggio painting, ‘The Taking of Christ’, which had been missing for several hundred years or, almost impossible to believe, the missing original itself.

He shared that thought with Dr. Kennedy, the Director of the Gallery and the Chief Restorer in strict confidence.

THE painting was brought to the Restoration Studio at the NGI and over the next two years was cleaned and relined.

It had been obscured by a mixture of yellowed varnish, smoke-tar and dust which had to be removed with the most painstaking care, using the least abrasive solvent possible, starting with pure water and adding acetone and alcohol until an effective mix had been obtained.

As the ‘windows’ to the canvas were opened inch-by-inch, the full, rich colours of the painting were revealed with details such as rust on a soldier’s helmet within its dramatic mixture of light and shade.

THE hemp canvas appeared to have the same thread count as a known Caravaggio in Rome.

There were traces of an earlier cleaning when too much paint had been removed showing changes of detail.

These ‘pentimenti’, changes of design by the artist which had been overpainted, are unlikely to be present in a copy of an original.

There were score marks in the paint, made with the wooden end of the paintbrush, a known Caravaggio technique.

Sergio Benedetti worried about the portrayal of an arm, which he thought too short, but that was a problem of perspective.

It had the craquelure to be expected of a 400-year-old painting and some sagging within its frame but was otherwise in relatively good physical condition.

To be continued...

Sunday, 17 February 2019

The Favourite Night

Strand Cinema, Holywood Road, ca 1936

When I was a lad in short trousers I was taken to the cinema quite often.

The Astoria and The Strand were both owned by the same company in the 1970s, ABC Cinemas, and there were matinees and a cinema club for schoolchildren.

They even gave us little metal enamel badges.

The Astoria was at Ballyhackamore, though it was demolished in 1974 to make way for a new telephone exchange.

The Strand Cinema, built in 1935, survives.

Strandtown House, the residence of Gustavus Heyn (1803-75), owner of the Belfast Steamship Company, used to stand here.

Strandtown House: Gate Lodge

Strandtown House and its grounds comprised two acres.

I had the customary coffee and bun with my aunt yesterday morning in Bell's and declared my intention to go and see The Favourite, a historical period drama about the rivalry between to female courtiers in the service of Queen Anne.

Timothy Belmont invariably adheres to his word. Ask any of his chums.

Accordingly, I left Belmont GHQ and made a beeline for Strandtown, viz. Belmont Road, close to the Strand cinema and Bennett's bistro, my venues.

It's quite a long time since I've darkened Bennett's threshold.

The staff showed me to a small table, where I made my self comfortable and perused the menu.

The Belfast Fish Pie caught the old eye, so I ordered that with a pot of tea.

They have a long list of desserts written in chalk on a blackboard, so I swivelled round, inwardly digested the list, and fancied the apple crumble.

Comfort food!

the grub was all tip-top, with a home-made appearance and taste.

The fish pie was rich, cheesy, creamy, with abundant and various chunks of fish, accompanied by a small sort of ramekin of mixed vegetables.

Plentiful big pieces of apple proliferated the buttery, golden crumble.

Full marks.

Crossing the road at Gelston's Corner, I entered the Strand cinema.

I don't think it has changed massively since I was last there, either, so I purchased a ticket and waited until the film began at eight-thirty.

The relatively recent business park beside the cinema used to be its car-park.

The Favourite is doubtless a good and authentic historical film, with all those period costumes, palatial country houses (Hatfield House was used, as was Hampton Court Palace).

Queen Anne, Abigail, Lady Masham, and Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough

Perhaps I am being somewhat pedantic, though Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough was constantly referred to as "Lady Marlborough".

Sarah was Countess of Marlborough, however, until 1702, when her husband was advanced to a dukedom.

Non-royal duchesses are, to my knowledge, styled "Your Grace" or simply "Duchess".

I suppose we cannot be too critical that merely one split infinitive was used, though whether educated noble families split their infinitives three centuries ago is debatable.

All in all a very good film, amusing at times.

It's unfair to compare it with The Green Book, a movie I saw recently, though I enjoyed the latter more.

Saturday, 16 February 2019

Mrs D's Chutney

What a fine February day it is.

The lark's on the wing; the snail's on the thorn, as Jeeves once remarked.

I happened to be collecting an item in Boot's local pharmacy and, striding past Warwick the butcher, I glanced into the window display.

Mrs Darlington's jams and chutneys were on display and I can tell you that the beetroot chutney is very good indeed.

So good that I bagged the raspberry jam and another jar of chutney.

Mr Warwick greeted me with a "ahh, Lord Belmont".

Now I'm wondering how many of the local populace recognize me?

Friday, 15 February 2019

New Armagh DL


The Earl of Caledon KCVO, Lord-Lieutenant of County Armagh, has been pleased to appoint
Mr Terence David WALKINGSHAW
County Armagh
To be a Deputy Lieutenant of the County, his Commission bearing date the 31st day of January 2019

Lord Lieutenant of the County

Valete: This Week

For those of you who happen to be of a certain vintage, Sir Robin Day was the BBC's Questiontime, the original and best chairman.

My enthusiasm for the show dissipated thereafter.

I hear that the BBC is "pulling the plug" on its current affairs programme, This Week, at the end of its present series.

The broadcaster and journalist, Andrew Neil, has been presenting This Week since its inception in 2003.

I never tire of enjoying his customary Dixon-Of-Dock-Green Evenin' All when it starts.

My conversion to This Week has been quite recent, though I have seldom missed a show in over a year.

Given its very late slot at eleven forty-five, I tend to watch on my iPad in bed.

Messrs Johnson & Portillo

This Week has been blessed with a Dream Team of Andrew Neil, two former cabinet ministers, viz. Michael "Choo-choo" Portillo and Alan Johnson, and guests.

Even Mr Neil's golden retriever, Miss Molly, has featured occasionally.

All good things must come to an end, eventually, I suppose.

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Dromore Castle


The O'Mahonys were, in early times, powerful chieftains in the province of Munster, and had extensive estates along the sea-coast of counties Cork and Kerry.
Opposite Horse Island, off the former county, was their castle of Rosbrin, boldly erected on a rock over the sea; and its proprietor, in the time of ELIZABETH I, availing himself of the natural advantage that it possessed, led a life of such successful piracy, that Sir George Carew, when Lord President of Munster, was obliged to demolish it.
From old family documents, it appears that the ancestors of RICHARD JOHN MAHONY, of Dromore Castle, held for a long period the office of Seneschal of Kerry, even down to the time of the Commonwealth.
In 1639, MacDermot O'Mahony was confirmed as High Sheriff of Kerry by CHARLES I. Not long after, the O'Mahonys, true to their allegiance, suffered fine and confiscation, and finally sought in foreign climes the distinction denied them at home.
COLONEL DERMOT O'MAHONY, of Rosbrin, a faithful adherent of JAMES II, fought and fell at Aughrim.

His brother, DANIEL MAHONY, received the honour of knighthood from that monarch at St Germain's for his gallant conduct at Cremona, and afterwards for his good services in France, Spain and Italy, obtained the title of Count from LOUIS XIV.

This was the celebrated General Count MAHONY, of the Spanish service, so distinguished at Almanza and in Sicily as Commander-in-Chief of the Spanish troops.

A chief line of the great House of Mahony resident in County Kerry was

JOHN MAHONY, of Dromore Castle, who married firstly, in 1794, Miss Higginbotham, of Bath, who died without issue; and secondly, Miss Day, daughter of the Ven Edward Day, Archdeacon of Ardfert, of Beaufort House, County Kerry, and had issue,
DENIS, of whom presently;
He married thirdly, Miss Godfrey, daughter of Sir William Godfrey Bt, of Kilcoleman Abbey, County Kerry, by whom he had a daughter, Agnes, who wedded R C Hickson, of Fermoyle, County Kerry.

Mr Mahony died in 1817, and was succeeded by his eldest son,

THE REV DENIS MAHONY JP, of Dromore Castle, who married firstly, in 1827, Lucinda Catherine, only child of John Segerson, of West Cove, County Kerry, and had a son,

RICHARD JOHN, of whom hereafter.
He wedded secondly, in 1829, Jane, daughter of Sir John Blake Bt, of Menlo Castle, and by her had issue,
Rose; Margaret.
He espoused thirdly, in 1843, Katherine, daughter of Mathew Franks, of Merrion Square, Dublin, by whom he had one daughter, Mary Ellen.

The Rev Denis Mahony died in 1851, and was succeeded by his eldest son,

RICHARD JOHN MAHONY JP DL (1828-), of Dromore Castle, High Sheriff of County Kerry, 1853, who was father of

HAROLD SEGERSON MAHONY JP (1867-1905), of Dromore Castle, County Kerry, who succeeded his father in 1892.

When Harold Mahony was killed in a bicycle accident in 1905, he left no heirs.

The estate passed to his sister, Norah Eveleen Mahony, wife of Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Hood TD JP, who, in turn, left the castle to her cousin, Hugh Bolton Waller.

DROMORE CASTLE, near Templenoe, County Kerry, looks out over the River Kenmare.

It was built in the 1830s for the Mahony family to a neo-gothic design by Sir Thomas Deane.

It was designed and built for Denis Mahony.

Work began in 1831, although the account books show that only a negligible amount had been carried out before 1834.

Building work was completed in 1839.

The house is in the castellated Gothic-Revival style, with an external finish of Roman cement with limestone dressings.

With the notable exception of the grand south-facing window with its pointed arch, the windows consist of pointed tracery contained within rectangular frames, a style characteristic of Deane's domestic work.

The entrance hall, which is in the form of a long gallery, takes up half of the area of the ground floor.

The west wing of the Castle takes the form of a round tower, with a spiral staircase contained within an attached turret.
Although Dromore Castle appears to have been built on the instructions of Denis Mahony, his father John Mahony had made the decision to build a large residence earlier in the 19th century, but apparently abandoned the attempt after his yacht, returning from London with lead for the roof and wine for the cellar, sank in the River Kenmare, in view of the site of the house.
Thereafter, no further work took place until Deane began building work for Denis Mahony in the 1830s.

Denis Mahony was a rector of the Church of Ireland and a keen proselytiser.

He is known to have set up a soup kitchen at Dromore during the time of the Irish Potato Famine, and preached in the chapel at Dromore to the hungry who came for food.

His proselytizing activities did not make him a popular figure in the locality, and in 1850 he was attacked in his church at Templenoe.

On returning to Dromore, he found a further angry group had uprooted flower beds, felled trees and were about to set fire to the castle; it is claimed that they were only stopped by the intervention of the local priest.

After the Rev Denis Mahony's death in 1851, the castle was inherited by his son, Richard John Mahony, who successfully ran the estate in addition to farming oyster beds in the bay.

When Richard Mahony died, the castle then passed in turn to his son, Harold Segerson Mahony.

Harold was an extremely successful tennis player, and indeed was the last Irish winner at Wimbledon.

His tennis court can still be found in the gardens at the Castle.
It was in the late 1800s, during Harold Mahony's time as head of the household, that Harold Boulton, best known for writing the lyrics of the Skye Boat Song, came to visit Dromore, and it is then that he is thought to have written the words to the popular song "The Castle of Dromore," published in 1892.
When Harold Mahony was killed in a bicycle accident in 1905, he left no heirs, and the castle was passed to his sister, Norah Hood.

She in turn left the castle to her cousin, Hardrass Waller, and the castle remained in the hands of the Waller family until 1993 when it was offered for sale.

Dromore Castle is now owned by an investment company who are attempting to restore the building.

Beyond the Castle's gardens and outbuildings, the majority of the Castle grounds are now owned by  the Irish forestry board.

The Kerry Way runs through the grounds, and there are various footpaths leading to the Kenmare River. Entrance to the grounds is through a castellated gatehouse, also by Thomas Deane.

Dromore Castle provided some of the filming locations for the 1988 film High Spirits.

First published in June, 2012.

Bob McCartney

I had a bit of shopping to do this morning.

The old Belmont taste-buds had a craving for that slow-cooked lamb sold in certain stores.

The method of cooking it in a sealed bag is, I gather, known as as sous-vide.

It's ages since I have eaten lamb and, quite frankly, my consumption of red meat has declined.

I enjoy it, however, when it's on the menu.

Whilst ambling past the countless aisles I had the great joy and privilege of encountering none other than Bob McCartney, the retired Ulster barrister and MP for North Down before Lady Hermon.

I don't know whether he recognized me or not, though we greeted each other cordially.

He looked well.

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

The Dukedom

THE DUKEDOM, the most elevated dignity in the peerage, was first introduced by EDWARD III.

His Majesty created his eldest son, Edward, The Black Prince, in 1337 (then Earl of Chester), Duke of Cornwall, and subsequently Prince of Wales, when the Dukedom merged in the Principality, and has ever since been vested in the heir apparent to the Crown, who, at his birth, becomes Duke of Cornwall.

The second dukedom was conferred in 1351, upon Henry of Grosmont (son and heir of the Earl of Derby), under the title of Duke of Lancaster, which dignity expired at His Grace's decease, in 1360, without male issue; but was re-conferred, in 1362, upon John of Gaunt, who had espoused the Duke's second daughter, and eventually sole heiress, Blanche of Lancaster.

In the reign of ELIZABETH I, in 1572, the whole order became utterly extinct; but it was revived about fifty years later by her successor, in the person of George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham.

A duke is styled "His Grace" and the "Most Noble", and he is officially addressed by the Crown, "Our right trusty and right entirely beloved Cousin and Counsellor".

The most recent non-royal dukedom to be conferred was in 1900 for Alexander Duff, 6th Earl Fife, KG, KT, etc, who was created Duke of Fife (second creation).

Following his retirement as Prime Minister in 1955, Sir Winston Churchill was offered a dukedom (Prime ministers were customarily offered hereditary peerages), though he declined the offer.

THE ROBES worn by a duke at a coronation consist of a mantle and surcoat of common velvet, lined with white taffeta, the mantle doubled from the neck to the elbow with ermine, having four rows of spots on each shoulder.

His Grace's parliamentary robes are of fine scarlet cloth, lined with taffeta, having four guards of ermine on the right side, and three on the left, placed at equal distances, each guard surmounted with gold lace; the robe is tied up to the left shoulder by a white ribbon.

His cap is of crimson velvet, lined with ermine, having a gold tassel at top; and his coronet, which is of gold, is set with strawberry leaves, also of gold.

First published in December, 2013.

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Clonbrock House


This family deduces its descent from a common progenitor with the Dillons, Earls of Roscommon, and the Dillons, Viscounts Dillon.

Sir James Dillon, brother of Sir Maurice, who was ancestor of the Viscount Dillon, was father of Sir Robert, who had two sons, Sir Richard, of Riverston, ancestor of the Earls of Roscommon; and Gerald, ancestor of the Barons Clonbrock.

This Gerald married Elizabeth, daughter of John, Baron Barry, and was ancestor of Thomas Dillon, of Clonbrock, County Galway, Chief Justice of Connaught, 1603; from whom was descended

ROBERT DILLON (c1704-46), MP for Dungarvan, 1728-46, who wedded Margaret, daughter of Morgan Magan, of Togherston House, County Westmeath, and was father of

LUKE DILLON, of Clonbrock, who wedded Bridget, daughter of John Kelly, of Castle Kelly, County Galway, and the Lady Honoria Burke, daughter of John, 9th Earl of Clanricarde, and had issue,
ROBERT, his heir;
Honoria; Susanna.
The eldest son,

ROBERT DILLON (1754-95), MP for Lanesborough, 1776-90, was elevated to the peerage, in 1793, in the dignity of BARON CLONBROCK, of Clonbrock, County Galway.

His lordship married, in 1776, Letitia, only daughter and heir of John Greene, of Old Abbey, County Limerick, and niece, maternally, of John, Earl of Norbury, and had issue,
LUKE, his successor;
Catherine Bridget; Letitia Susannah.
His lordship was succeeded by his son,

LUKE, 2nd Baron (1780-1826), who wedded, in 1803, Anastasia, only daughter and heir of Joseph Henry, 1st Baron Wallscourt, by the Lady Louisa Catherine Bermingham, his wife, third daughter and co-heir of Thomas, Earl of Louth, and had issue,
ROBERT, his successor;
Louisa Harriet; Letitia.
The only son,

ROBERT, 3rd Baron (1807-93), espoused, in 1830, Caroline Elizabeth, daughter of Francis, 1st Baron Churchill, and had issue,
Luke Almeric, died in infancy;
LUKE GERALD, his successor;
Fanny Letitia; Caroline Anastasia.
His lordship was succeeded by his surviving son,

LUKE GERALD, 4th Baron (1834-1917), KP PC, who married, in 1866, Augusta Caroline, daughter of Edward, 2nd Baron Crofton, and had issue,
ROBERT EDWARD, his successor;
Georgiana Caroline; Edith Augusta; Ethel Louisa.
His lordship was succeeded by his only son,

ROBERT EDWARD, 5th Baron (1869-1926), who died unmarried, when the title expired.

CLONBROCK HOUSE, Ahascragh, County Galway, was built between 1780-88 by Robert Dillon, later 1st Baron Clonbrock.

It comprised three storeys over a basement, and replaced a an older castle which was burnt in 1807 owing to a bonfire lit to celebrate the birth of his lordship's son and heir, the 2nd Baron.

Clonbrock had a seven-bay entrance front with a three-bay, pedimented breakfront.

A single-storey Doric portico was added about 1824.

In 1855, the 3rd Baron added a single-storey, two-bay bow-ended wing to the right of the entrance front.

Following the death of the bachelor 5th Baron in 1926, Clonbrock passed to his sister, the Hon Ethel Louisa Dillon.

It was subsequently bequeathed to her nephew, Mr Luke Dillon-Mahon, who sold it in 1976.

Clonbrock suffered a catastrophic fire in 1984 and is now ruinous.

First published in March, 2014.  Clonbrock arms courtesy of European Heraldry.