The Bishops and the Barrons

As  the stones of the old church in Ferrybank were being taken down Canon Carrigan was putting the finishing touches to his monumental history of the Diocese of Ossory.  According to Carrigan the work of demolishing the old church was already underway in the early Summer of 1903. The foundation stone for the present church was laid by Dr. Abraham Brownrigg on the 13th of April 1904. The church itself was completed in 1906.   A plaque located in the porch over the main entrance to the Church testifies to this:

This church was erected by Sir Henry Page Turner Barron, Bart. to the honour and glory of God and in memory of his relations, deceased, 1906.

However,  it is the story and intrigue behind the plaque that makes for interesting reading. Carefully concealed behind this plaque and inscription lies a power struggle between successive bishops of Ossory and different members of the Barron family of Belmont Park. This struggle reached a new turning point when Sir Henry Page Turner Barron of Belmont Park died  on the 12th of September 1900 at Stuttgard after a distinguished career in Her Majesty’s Foreign Service. In his last will and testament he left a bequest of £6,000 for the building of a new church in Ferrybank and £3,000 towards the building of a mausoleum adjoining it. It took more than three years to iron out the intricacies of the Barron Will and for the bishop to issue his sanction for the erection of the new church as required by the will.

However, long before the contents of the Barron Will became known relations between the benefactor and successive bishops of Ossory had been far from cordial.  Evidence of strained relations can be gleaned from correspondence dating back to Bishop Moran’s time i.e. from c. 1875 onwards.

The Chapel of Ease becomes a Parish Church

Even today the people of Ferrybank refer to their much loved church as the “chapel of ease”. This was the regular ecclesiastical title applied to auxiliary or subordinate churches within a parish. Such churches were constructed specifically to meet the pastoral and spiritual needs of people at a time when the only form of transport was shanks mare.  Ferrybank remained the “chapel of ease” to Slieverue until it was constituted a parish in its own right by Most Rev. Dr. Peter Birch, Bishop of Ossory, in 1970. Father Michael McGrath, who had been appointed parish priest of  Slieverue in December 1964, succeeding the late Canon James Ryan, became its first parish priest.  In constituting Ferrybank an autonomous parish the late Dr. Birch was merely following ecclesiastical precedent. Until 1846 Slieverue and Glenmore had formed one parochial union (Carrigan, IV, p. 88). In that year the parish priest of Slieverue, Very Rev. Edward Walsh, became Bishop of Ossory. After his elevation to the episcopacy he separated Glenmore from Slieverue (Carrigan, IV, p. 212). Four years earlier, 1842, Mullinavat had been severed from Kilmacow (Carrigan, IV, 171).

The Old Church in Ferrybank

On the site of the present church stood an old church which according to Carrigan had been completed about 1834 i.e. some 34 years after the completion of the mother church in Slieverue and within a few years of Daniel O’Connell winning Catholic Emancipation. Little is known of the shape or design of this original church but the Lease providing the site for its construction is still extant in the Diocesan Archives in Kilkenny.  The said Lease was entered into by John Congreve of Mount Congreve in the County of Waterford and the Most Rev. Dr. William Kinsella, Bishop of Ossory, on the 24 day of August 1830. The Lease sets down in detail the terms of the agreement. The location area-wise consisted of “two roods and nineteen perches plantation measure” and was situated in “the parish of Kilculliheen, Barony of Ida, County of Kilkenny and the Liberties of the City of  Waterford”. It was entered into for a period of five hundred years and for the princely sum “of six pence sterling to be paid by two equal half-yearly payments on every twenty ninth day of September and twenty-fifth day of March”.  It was entered into “upon the express condition and understanding, that the said demised premises be  used for no other purpose than that of public worship according to the Rites and Ceremonies of the Roman Catholic Church and as a place of interment belonging to the chapel erected thereon”. In the event of its being used for any other purposes than those specified, it would “revert and become the property of the said John Congreve”.

The Lease itself contains an outline sketch of  a church building for the purpose of indicating the exact location on which the chapel was to be constructed. There is no indication as to the shape or specification of the church itself but it is almost certain that its location coincided more or less exactly with that of the present church. The need to re-locate those graves immediately adjoining the old church in order to make space for the new one would point in this direction.  Letters exchanged at the time between Bishop Brownrigg and his legal advisers would seem to confirm this. On the actual Lease Document the property to the right and rear of the church is designated as “lands occupied by R. Walsh”  while on the left were “lands occupied by St. Leger”. In front of the church ran “the Ross Road” as it still does.

The Barrons of Belmont Park: who were they?

Tracing one’s family roots is never easy. It is particularly taxing and difficult if one happens to bear the name ‘Barron’ or ‘Baron’. As the latter spelling suggests the designation was more a feudal title than a name. Several Anglo-Irish families would seem to have appropriated this title as their surname through the centuries.  Among the more noted families to do so were the Geraldines of Kilkenny, descendants of Maurice Fitzgerald (+1177) who led the second band of Norman invaders to Ireland to assist Dermot McMurrough, King of Leinster, regain that kingdom from which he had been driven by Roderick 0′ Connor, King of Ireland.

In due course the Fitzgerald clan (or ‘Barrons’ as they would be subsequently known) split into different branches and occupied vast tracts of land in county Kilkenny. Among those who lost their estates in the county of Kilkenny by forfeiture, consequent upon the political movements of the seventeenth century, were seven gentlemen  by the name of Fitzgerald.  Those who possessed the largest estates had their principal seats at Brownsfort, Gurteens, and Burnchurch  respectively. The Gurteens branch of the family would seem to have been the less significant.  Father Stephen Barron, Ord. Cist., relying on a  detailed genealogical table of the Barron Family which he inherited from Percy Eustace Barron, Esq., formerly of Belmont Park, traces the Belmont Park Barrons back to the Barrons of Fahagh, Co. Waterford.  But a chronicler called 0’Donovan whom Burtchaell refers to as ‘no mean authority upon Kilkenny families’ probably sums up best the difficulty of tracing the roots of the Barrons of Belmont Park. Writing in 1839 0’Donovan says “Henry Winston Barron, M.P., is the supposed representative of this ancient family, but as his family have sprung up into respectability at a comparatively recent period their pedigree is unknown or uncertain, and it is now perhaps impossible to show how, i.e. whether legitimately or illegitimately, they descend from the Barons of Burnchurch”.

But whatever dispute there might be about the pedigree and origins of the Barrons of Belmont Park their immense material well-being and religious devotion were beyond doubt. Like their ancestors the Fitzgeralds they too were fervent in their faith and religious devotion. That devotion extended to acts of extraordinary generosity when it came to building churches and schools. One of the principal beneficiaries of the Barron largesse were the people of Ferrybank.

The first reference of this largesse with reference to Ferrybank that I have been able to locate is to be found in  The Waterford News , September 3rd, 1926. In its column on Waterford, a century earlier it carries an interesting insert from The Clonmel Advertiser,  August 23, 1826:

Henry W. Barron, Esq. has given £20  in cash and £30 worth of stones towards the erection of a Roman Catholic Chapel at Ferrybank, near Waterford.

It is probable that the matter of a chapel in Ferrybank had for some time been the subject of discussion prior to the Lease being entered into, and that the Barron family were key players in promoting the idea.

The 1867 Tower and Belfry

The entrance to the present church is through the tower which supports a very elegant Gothic spire or belfry. This structure predates the present church by about forty  years. It was added on to the original church in 1867. Architecturally Gothic, it was “built in front of a small Grecian chapel” (Moran to Cullen, 21 May 1876)  Aesthetically it must have appeared at odds with the humble Grecian chapel adjacent to it. Bishop Moran would later describe it in less than complimentary terms – it was “nothing more than a sepulchral mausoleum of the Barrons” (Ibid).  In a robust reply to his uncle, Cardinal Cullen of Dublin, he dismisses the whole tower project as “simply ridiculous and was only allowed in consequence of promises made of re-erecting the church in the same Gothic style” (Ibid.).  It was little wonder then  that  the people of Ferrybank saw it more as a monument to the Barrons than as a positive contribution to the existing building.

Yet the pre-existence of the tower probably proved crucial when it came to designing and adding the present church.  Though built about forty years apart the benefactor of both tower and church was one and the same person – Henry or H.P.T. Barron.  Both were designed by the same firm of architects, Pugin and Ashlin. When H. P. T. Barron died in 1900 he left among his private papers the sketch of the church that would be re-worked and ultimately adopted. Bishop Moran was already aware of the existence of such plans in 1876 but they were destined to remain on the architects drawing board for several more years. Before the church would be built much controversy would ensue between the Barron family and successive bishops of Ossory. The commemorative plaque bearing the coat of arms of the Barron Family and its accompanying inscription located over the main door as one enters the porch was destined to become the subject of acrimonious exchanges between the Barron Family and Doctor Moran, Bishop of Ossory. The inscription reads as follows:

This tower has been erected to the honour of God & of the Sacred Heart of  Jesus by Henry Page Turner Barron & Eustace Barron of Mexico; also in memory of their relatives deceased, 1867.

Though in itself pretty inoffensive the very idea of a monument to a particular family within a church building and the allegedly devious way in which it was executed would seem to have been the root cause for misunderstanding between Moran and Barron. This monument is subsequently invoked by Bishop Moran as an excuse for barring all further Barron Monuments from Ferrybank Church.

The ecclesiastical milieu in which the old and new churches were built: the broader ecclesiastical canvas

No event can ever be fully understood in isolation. This is certainly so when it comes to understanding the background to the building of a new church. The wider ecclesiastical insight context provides invaluable insight. It is generally acknowledged among historians that Irish Catholic Church as we know it today is a post-Famine phenomenon. The first half of the nineteenth century witnessed a veritable explosion in the building of chapels. culminating in the ‘Romanisation’ of Catholic practices and devotion. The one who spearheaded these reforms was Archbishop Paul Cullen of Dublin. Before being appointed to the See of Dublin he had been Rector of the IrishCollege in Rome. Transforming an Irish Catholic population into a chapel-going people and weaning them off native, superstitious practices were pasttoral priorities for the newly appointed archbiship. He achieved his objectives by insisting that Masses be offered only in chapels. Staion Masses (which had evolved during penal times with the priest travelling from townsland to townsland and offering Masses in private house houses were) frowned upon. The traditional rituals associated with funeral wakes were undermined by bringing the corpse to the chapel. Catholic priests began wearing the Roman collar. Many other traditional practices such as patterns and holy well rituals were suppressed and replaced with chapel-centred imports such as ‘forty hours, perpetual adoration, novenas, blessed altars, Via Crucic, benediction, vespers, devotions to the Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Conception, jubilees, triduums, pilgrimages, shrines, processions and retreats. these new devotional practices of Roman or continental origin were nurtured and supported by devotional tools and aids such as the rosary beads, scapulars, medals, missals, prayer books, catechisms and holy pictures. By 1870 the ‘Cullinisation’ of Irish Catholicism was as good as complete. It was against this backdrop that the current church in Ferrybank was built.

Prelude to building the present church: a  Barron  Monument  in search of a home …

Being remembered for posterity is a consummation devoutly to be wished for. It would seem to have ranked high in the Barron list of priorities. When Sir Henry Winston Barron, Baronet, died in 1872, his immediate relatives Pierce Marcus Barron of Belmont Park and Sir Henry Barron, at that time attached to the British Legation in Brussels, lost no time in ensuring that this “popular, public man and good Catholic”.[1][1] would be appropriately remembered. Within a month of his father’s death Henry Barron, his son, “personally obtained permission from Dr. O’Brien, Bishop of Waterford, … to erect a monument to (his) father Sir Henry W. Barron in either the Cathedral or the Church of St. John at Waterford” (H. Barron to Cullen, 4 March 1876). St. John’s was subsequently designated to host the mural monument. The donor had no problem with this. As a gesture of goodwill he “immediately gave £30 towards the stained glass windows of St. John’s, and ordered an expensive Gothic monument in harmony with the architecture of the church” (Ibid.). But H. Barron’s plans were dashed when Dr. O’Brien’s successor in Waterford, Dr. Power, flatly refused “to admit this monument of a layman to any church in his diocese” (Ibid.). The Dominicans who were building their church at the time would willingly have found a niche “for this ornamental addition but for the Bishop’s unaccountable veto” (Ibid.). As it turned out the Dominicans were to be the main losers – being forbidden to afford refuge to the Barron monument probably meant forfeiting the £200 which Barron had promised towards their building fund.

Undaunted by Dr. Power’s refusal, Henry Barron appealed to Cardinal Cullen of Dublin to use his high office and influence to have the new bishop of Waterford honour his predecessor’s word but all to no avail. Even Barron’s threat of suing for compensation to the tune of £315 (the cost of the monument) failed to move the implacable bishop.

When it became obvious that they were not going to find a home for the monument to Sir Henry Winston Barron in any church in Waterford Diocese the Barron family now switched its attention across the river Suir to Ferrybank. Pierce Marcus Barron of BelmontPark made contact with the Bishop of Ossory, Dr. Moran in 1875. But Moran was not in favour. Having visited the chapel and consulted with the local clergy, Moran, in a letter dated 19 July 1875, flatly refuses to countenance any such request on the grounds that “the erection of the proposed monument would seriously inconvenience the congregation … and the proposed inscription on the monument would occasion grave scandal to the parishioners, if permitted within the chapel walls”. Moran goes on to elaborate further on the reasons for his refusal : ” some of the parishioners have complained of the inscription and coat of arms placed in the tower over the entrance. The venerable P.P. informed me that he knew nothing of its erection till after it was done” (Moran to P. M. Barron,[2][2] 19 July 1875).

Sir Henry Page-Turner Winston Barron now enters the fray. He was not prepared to take no for an answer. Once again he appealed to Cardinal Cullen this time asking him to use his high office and influence with the Bishop of Ossory, Dr. Moran, so that the said monument could be erected in the chapel of Ferrybank.[3][3] Clearly Ferrybank had not been his first choice for the monument to his father, nor even his second. Cullen made contact with Moran who at this stage would seem to have softened in his opposition to the Barron request. He told Cullen, his uncle, that he had informed Mr. Barron that it was “a diocesan rule in Ossory that such monuments (were) not permitted inside our churches, except in the case of special benefactors”. Implicit in this statement was Moran’s readiness to do business but at a price. In Moran’s book special benefactors had to be for real. He wasn’t one for believing that ‘the cheque is in the post’. He wanted money up front and was prepared to say it. He wrote to his uncle stating the reasons for his prevarication:

We have some important parochial works on hands at present at Ferrybank, such as the erection of new schools and a parochial house. If the Barron family wishes to become benefactors by investing a sum of say £500 towards rebuilding the church or towards the parochial purposes at present on hands, or any sum that will fairly constitute them special benefactors of the parish, I will do everything that I can to meet Mr. Barron’s wishes (Moran to Cullen, 21 May 1876).

Cullen would be obviously pleased. Moran’s mellowing was getting him off the hook. Waterford having originally agreed to provide a home for the Barron monument had with the change of bishops reneged on that commitment. Ossory’s initial outright opposition was diminishing. It was now a matter for the Barron family to prove that they were genuine benefactors by making a contribution to parochial funds. Cullen, not wanting to get embroiled in the affairs of another diocese and especially when the bishop of that other diocese happened to be his own nephew, replied both tentatively and diplomatically “that monuments are permitted in churches in the case of special benefactors”, and re-assuring Barron of the high esteem in which he was held by his nephew the Bishop of Ossory ( H. Barron to Moran, 10th June 1876). All that remained now was for Barron to prove to Moran that he was in fact a special benefactor. A £500 donation would secure him that grace. Barron now felt that he had a foot in the door and wasted no time in setting down all the reasons why he should already qualify as a special benefactor and thereby be entitled to erect a monument to his liking, complete with inscription, inside the church. He wrote to Moran pointing out why he should qualify not merely as a benefactor but in his own words ‘as the main benefactor of this little village church’:

…my father contributed £100 towards the erection of the present front, besides the stones and with which it is built … I am still a greater benefactor by giving a belfry, which is not the less useful and ornamental because it serves also as a memorial of my family ….

Barron goes to great pains to refute the claim being made by Moran that the belfry was allowed only on the strength of his promising to re-build the church at a later date.[4][4] He had made no such promise, nor had he authorised anybody to make such a commitment on his behalf. What he had promised, however, was “a liberal donation towards the rebuilding of the church” not in order to curry favour with ecclesiastical authorities “but simply as a spontaneous and disinterested act of generosity” on his part. He goes on to inform the truculent Bishop that he had already in his Will “bequeathed £1,500 towards the building of a new church at Ferrybank”, that he had not yet revoked this bequest and that he sincerely hoped that he ” would not be driven to such a step” because of the shabby way in which he was now being treated (H. Barron to Moran, 10 June 1876). He concludes his long letter by appealing to the Bishop’s “sense of justice to allow the erection of this monument in the church of Ferrybank on the simple grounds that Sir H. Barron and I have been large benefactors of the same church. Whenever it is thought fit to rebuild this church I shall be ready to contribute £500 towards that purpose certainly not as a ‘matter of business’ but as a free act of liberality”.

Moran, however, was not impressed. Although he badly needed Barron’s money for the building of schools and a parochial house[5][5] he would not be bullied by threats of forfeiting future legacies and donations. He thanked Barron for the “kind promise of £500 towards rebuilding the Ferrybank parochial church, and when that sum is received (he) will be justly reckoned among the special benefactors of that church” (Moran to H. Barron 12 June 1876). But all this was in the future as far as Moran was concerned. He wanted the money now while Barron was only prepared to promise it in the future. The compromise that Cullen thought was in sight now comes unstuck. Moran’s refusal to entertain the Barron monument is now more trenchant than ever. Initially he was prepared to overlook the fact that “some Protestant members of the (Barron) family” had been interred in the tower or porch and that it was “filled with inscriptions about the deceased who (were) interred there” (Moran to Cullen, 21 May 1876). Moran now goes on the attack. He reiterates the reasons he had already given for not granting permission for the erection of the monument. He now takes exception to the other plaques in the porch stating that : “the inscriptions erected in the porch have but little of that piety which should characterise church monuments”. The Bishop concludes his stinging letter by reminding Barron that “there (was) a good deal of angry feeling in the parish of Slieverue on the matter of these monuments” and that he had “neither the inclination nor the leisure” for engaging in further controversy with him.

Barron demands a “new trial:

Barron did his utmost to have a monument erected to his father, Sir Henry Winston Barron, inside the old church in Ferrybank but he failed to break down the Bishop’s opposition. Having failed in Ossory he now directs his attention once again across the river to Waterford. On June, 19th, 1878[6][1] he wrote in a rather conciliatory tone to the new Bishop of Waterford, Dr. Power requesting a ‘new trial’ and pointing out the understanding that he and the late Bishop of Waterford had arrived at with regard to the erection of the now completed monument in St. John’s Church. No doubt Barron had marshalled all these same arguments three years earlier when the said Bishop had flatly refused him permission to erect the said monument in any church in the diocese of Waterford. What Barron was now offering in addition to his arguments was his money – “I am willing to donate a further sum of £100 to the erection of a stained glass memorial window, if your Lordship will grant the permission …” (H.P.T. Barron to Power, 19 June 1878). But what probably proved decisive in emasculating the Bishop’s opposition was a post-script to the above letter: “If this affair is now settled in friendly spirit, my benefactions to your Lordship’s diocese shall not be limited to the above contribution” (Ibid.). No bishop could afford to ignore such a promise laced in silver lining from a man as wealthy as H.P.T. Barron. When the Barron Will was finally published the Catholic Bishop of Waterford was one of its principal beneficiaries – he received £2,000 while hospitals and charitable institutions in Waterford benefited to the tune of £4,000.

It is little wonder then that we find ensconced in the wall of the right aisle if St. John’s Church a gothic monument bearing the inscription:

Sacred to the memory of Sir Henry Winston Barron, Bar.,

born Oct. 15, 1795 at Ballyneale in this county.

Elected M. P. for Waterford 1832; 1835; 1837;

1848; 1865; 1869.

Died 19 Aug. 1872, R.I.P..

It is the only such monument in the church and it is very doubtful if it enhances the church in any way.

How the present Church came to be built: Sir H. P. T. Barron’s Will

On September 12, 1900 Sir Henry Barron died in Stuttgard at the age of seventy five and after a distinguished career in Her Majesty’s Foreign Service. In his Will he left a generous bequest for FerrybankChurch far in excess of what he had promised twenty five years earlier when he was trying to have a monument erected inside the old church to the memory of his father. Whether it was Bishop Moran’s departure to Sydney or the desire to erect a more substantial monument to his family that brought the unexpected windfall to Ferrybank we do not know. What we do know, however, is that the publication of Sir Henry Barron’s Will proved something of a ‘gilt-edged sword’ to Moran’s successor in Ossory, Dr. Abraham Brownrigg.

When Sir Henry Barron was in the throes of controversy with Doctor Moran over the erection of a monument in honour of his father inside the church in Ferrybank he had already allocated in his Will the sum of £1,500 towards the rebuilding of the same church. When the Will was ultimately notified this sum had been increased to £9,000. But there was a downside to it – there were strings attached in the form of conditions built into the Will. The relevant sections of the Will are contained in Clauses 13 & 14 and read as follows:

13.       The sum of six thousand pounds is allotted to my Trustees for the erection and decoration of a new Catholic Church to be built on the site of the present church at Ferrybank adjoining the belfry which was erected by Eustace Barron and myself in 1867. My name is to be inscribed over the front door as the founder of the church. All the wall space on one side of the church is to be preserved for the insertion of monumental tablets commemorative of the members of my (the Ballyneal) branch of the Barron Family. The appropriation of this space is to be vested in my Irish heir. The church is to be of the Gothic style of architecture, harmonising with the existing belfry. Before undertaking this work the written sanction of the Catholic Bishop of that diocese is to be obtained for the erection of this church and of the adjoining mausoleum as directed in clause 14 of this Testament. If this sanction is withheld or coupled with conditions deemed by my Trustees to be unreasonable, they will erect the church and mausoleum or the mausoleum alone in some other place in the neighbourhood of Waterford but in such a manner as not to violate the Mortmain Acts.

14.       I allot the above sum of three thousand pounds to the erection of a mausoleum commemorative of the Barron family (Ballyneal branch). It is to be built abutting on or adjoining the church directed to be built if possible at Ferrybank and to be connected with that church internally. I desire that a mural tablet of black and white marbles shall be erected upon the inner wall of this mausoleum commemorative of myself. It is to bear an inscription in leaden so-called “indelible” letters recording the following events of my life:

Born 27th December, 1824 at BelmontPark in the parish of Slieverue alias Killoteran.

Attaché to her Majesty’s Legations at Berne, Turin, Florence and Berlin.

Secretary to Her Majesty’s Legations and Embassy at Lisbon, Bruxelles and Constantinople.

Her Majesty’s Minister-Resident to the King of Wurtemberg, October 1883.

The matter of interpreting and executing the Will was entrusted to three Trustees whose “unanimous decision” was “binding absolutely and without appeal in all questions arising from (the) Will and on all persons interested therein. Any beneficiary attempting to controvert that decision by legal proceedings shall forfeit all interest under this … Will”. (Clause 2).

Execution of the Barron Will:

The execution of the Will proved problematic. On January 1st, 1901, Garrard James & Wolfe, a London-based firm of solicitors wrote to Bishop Brownrigg informing him of the contents of the Barron Will and indicating that “the Trustees have provisionally set aside securities to answer the two legacies, and are now considering taking the preliminary steps to comply with Sir Henry’s wishes, but, before doing anything further in the matter, they desire to communicate with you in view to ascertaining (as is required by the Will) whether you, as the Bishop of the Diocese in which Ferrybank is situated, sanction the erection of the church and mausoleum at Ferrybank in accordance with the directions in the Will. The Trustees have not, of course, decided what architects they will employ, but, among Sir Henry’s papers we have found a sketch and ground plan prepared to Messrs Pugin & Ashlin at the time, we believe, when the belfry referred to in Clause 12 was built in 1867, and probably they may think it well to employ those gentlemen. This sketch does not, however, contemplate the mausoleum”.

Bishop Brownrigg now found himself in something of a bind – £6,000 for the building of a new church in Ferrybank provided he could meet the terms of the Will or at least satisfy the Trustees to that effect. The appropriation of one of the walls of the church by the Barron family for the purpose of erecting commemorative tablets constituted major stumbling blocks. The inclusion of a mausoleum abutting on or adjoining the church and connected to it internally complicated matters even further. £3,000 had been allocated for this part of the project. It was now a matter of getting around the terms of the Will in order not to let slip such a large sum of money. It was an offer no bishop could afford to let slip through his hands. In addition, there were other compelling reasons for not spurning such an offer – it made good structural, aesthetic and economic sense. The erection of the tower in 1867 had in the words of Bishop Brownrigg’s predecessor, Doctor Moran, presented “an anomaly unique in the diocese” because of “the different style of architecture in the porch and the little church itself”. Furthermore, “the front wall of the church (had) been seriously damaged by the erection of the tower, the result being that a portion of the church suffered considerably from damp” ( Moran to H. Barron, 12 June 1876). Financially the people of Ferrybank could not have afforded little at the time. They could ill-afford to miss out on a bonanza of £9,000.

 Social, Religious and Economic Conditions in “the little village” in 1900:

There is little reason for believing that things would have changed significantly on the economic and social front from what they had been a quarter of a century earlier. In his efforts to woo the Holy Faith Sisters to Ferrybank, Dr. Moran, writing to their Foundress Margaret Aylward in 1876, gives a vivid description of the fabric of village life at the time:

the poor people at Ferrybank require some spiritual care and training as badly as any in the whole diocese. The husbands are, for the most part engaged in the harbour or on the railway and mothers are terribly negligent in sending their children to school. Indeed, I don’t know any part of Ireland where a convent would do more good than (for) these poor people (Moran to Aylward, 5 August 1876).

In the end it was the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary (RSHMs) who came in 1879 at the invitation of Father Dunphy, the then Administrator of the parish. The financial arrangement finally agreed to between the Bishop, the parish and the Sisters gives a good idea of what people were able to afford at the time. The original arrangement was for the parish to provide the “poor schools” with the Motherhouse contributing £3,000 towards the building of the convent and the parish coming up with the balance. The architects estimate for the convent project was £4,250. The raising of the additional £1,250 was more than the parish could bear at the time. Mother Superior in France suggested running “a lottery or a bazaar” but Father Dunphy, the Administrator of the parish of Slieverue, lamented that “the people were tired of them” and that the Bishop of Waterford would never permit any fundraising for the RSHMs in his city since he would think it “in opposition to his Ursuline convent” (Dunphy to M. Ste. Croix, 7 February 1878). Eventually the Sisters agreed to bear the full cost of building the convent and to pay an annual rent of £48-8-0 to the diocese for the six and one half acres leased to them.

The foundation stone for the convent was laid by Doctor Moran in 1878. Sometime later the bishop commented to his friend, Msgr. Thomas Kirby, Rector of the IrishCollege in Rome:

There is now a large population there, mostly fishermen and those connected with the line of railway. I think it is the most abandoned part of this diocese and that it stands in the most need of some awakening of the spirit of practical piety. We will have a mission for them, conducted by Redemptorists in June. The nuns will afterwards keep alive their fervour and make them, I trust, everyday better (Moran to Kirby, 2 April 1878).

Jack Burtchaell in a talk entitled “Ferrybank in 1900″ given under the auspices of Eigse Sliabh Rua in November 1995 paints a similar picture of social deprivation. In 1901 the population of the village was 853 people most of whom earned a living on the docks or on the railway. Typical occupations were that of labourer, dressmaker, domestic servant, ships carpenter, tailor and publican etc. John Fleming of MountMisery (now the site of Jurys Hotel) was the only farmer in Ferrybank at the time.

These social and economic conditions made it all the more imperative for the Bishop to do business if at all possible with the Trustees of the Barron Estate. The church building now being proposed would be simply out of the question but for the Barron bequest. Its elegant cut-stone exterior, its splendid stained-glass windows coupled with its overall architectural harmony and proportion would have made it the envy of many. It certainly contrasted sharply with the mother-church in Slieverue and those of neighbouring parishes.

 Interpreting the Barron Will:

In his bid to interpret the Barron Will Brownrigg first turned to his ecclesiastical superiors for advice. He was wondering if complying with the terms of the Barron Will would be tantamount to agreeing to the erection of a semi-private oratory over which he or his successors would have little control. He wrote to Dr. William Walsh, the Archbishop of Dublin and to Cardinal Logue of Armagh. The Cardinal didn’t feel competent to advise the bishop one way or other, nor did he really advert to the deeper implications of the problem. He knew that there was a precedent for ‘private chapels’ such as the Corsini Chapel in St. John Lateran’s in Rome but whether such a private chapel could be sanctioned for Ferrybank he did not know. He referred the Bishop to the professor of Canon Law at Maynooth. “It would be a pity to lose the grant” he wrote and “with regard to the mausoleum … it affords a splendid opportunity of adding a magnificent chapel to the church, if the Trustees would agree to it” (Logue to Brownrigg, 23 October 1902). This he felt “would completely carry out the intentions of the testator”.

The reply of the Archbishop of Dublin was more directive. It was as trenchant as it was cunning. He warned his suffragan bishop against leaving a “legacy of confusion” to his successors. Sanctioning the erection of monuments inside the church and allowing inscriptions to be placed on them would be a recipe for “future difficulty and unpleasantness”. What if the Irish heir should at some future time be a Protestant and insist on putting up an inscription offensive to Catholics? “Could any Catholic proprietor suppose that the Bishop would or could, allow a church to be used for public worship in which an inscription of a Protestant, and possibly even offensively anti-Catholic character was put before the eyes of the people”? ( Walsh to Brownrigg, 22 October 1902). The tone of the Archbishop’s letter was alarmist to say the least. He went on to tell Bishop Brownrigg in no uncertain terms that “of course there could be no question of consecrating a church, with such legal rights secured in lay hands” and “if the Bishop’s right to control the inscriptions, monuments etc., be not recognised, there is inevitably a possibility that the church might at some time have to be closed”. But such an eventuality was something that the archbishop did not seriously contemplate. He suggested to Bishop Brownrigg that he should tell the Trustees of the Barron Will that “the only difficulty to be got over was one of a legal kind arising out of the ecclesiastical law” even though he did “not know of any canonical obstacle in the way of the Bishop’s sanctioning the building of the church”. What he suggested was that “the matter (be) handed over to two lawyers, each party nominating one, who would no doubt be able, after half-an-hour’s talk, to draw up a form of settlement that both sides would regard as satisfactory”. He even offered to put Bishop Brownrigg in touch with a “legal friend in whose knowledge and skill (he) could confide”. Whether Bishop Brownrigg scrupulously followed the advice of his metropolitan is not clear. What we do know for certain, however, is that he sought legal advice, and lots of it.

Legal Counsel:

Within a week of receiving Archbishop’s Walsh’s letter, Bishop Brownrigg was in receipt of legal advice from a Dublin-based solicitor, by the name of MacDermot. It would appear that the Bishop had written to MacDermot seeking a legal construction for a number of terms and categories as used in the Will. In particular he wanted to know that if he were to sanction the reservation and appropriation of one wall of the church for tablets and inscriptions commemorative of the Barron family would not this in effect be conferring on the Irish heir and his successors the right in law to claim ” the exclusive use of the surface of the said wall on the inside and on the outside of the church for the purpose named, so that no pictures could be hung on said wall unless with permission from the heir”. What was there then to stop the heir from carving “inscriptions … even of an … irreligious, heretical or pagan character” on the said tablets? But the greatest concern of the Bishop was how such a concession would affect the ownership of the church. Would it make it for all intents and purposes a ‘private chapel’ over which he or his successors would have little control! Finally the matter of the mausoleum was a cause for concern. Would it mean that the testator and members of his family would now have the right to be buried in it or even in the church itself? “If one of the Barron family died a Protestant, would we be obliged by civil law to allow his remains to be buried or deposited in the mausoleum”? ( Brownrigg to MacDermot, 28 October 1902). The big difficulty here as the bishop saw it was the “strict ecclesiastical law against burying heretics in Catholic burial ground”, not to mention burying them inside the precincts of a Catholic church building. The Bishop was wondering if he could exact a guarantee from the Trustees that no Protestant descendants would be interred in the mausoleum and that no inscription hostile to Catholic sentiment would be erected on the walls of the church. The scenario that Bishop Brownrigg wanted to avoid at all costs was the withholding of his sanction which would in effect give the Trustees a free hand to proceed to build the church nearby and without any interference whatever from the Bishop.

The queries raised by the Bishop stretched the legal acumen of MacDermot. In a series of letters to the Bishop he seemed less certain of his legal footing as time went on. At first he suggested that the mere fact the proposed church would be built on the site of the existing one would be enough to secure its legal title for the people of Ferrybank He assumed that the 1830 Lease on the land on which the church stood would have been vested in the Trustees of the parish. In a letter dated October 31, 1902 the solicitor wrote to the Bishop:

it seems to me on a survey of the case that having regard to the Lease of 1830 which I assume is vested in Trustees for the Parish that if the church qua church is erected in lieu and replacement or even in substitution for the existing church and built on the site leased for the former church there is no peril that the parochial control of the church can at any future time be successfully assailed.

The solicitor abandoned this proposed escape route from the legal quagmire of the Barron Will when the Bishop wrote back reminding him that the existing church was not in fact vested in Trustees for the Parish and that no rent had ever been asked for or paid in respect of the said Lease. MacDermot now suggested that “the Trustees should execute a short deed reciting your sanction to erection of the church on the Leased Site and a condition that the Tablets be attached to the church wall in conformity with the provisions of the Will; should from time to time before erection be subject to the sanction of the Catholic Bishop of the diocese for the time being as to their character and nature” (MacDermot to Brownrigg, 3 November, 1902). But the Bishop was not impressed. It would appear that he was anxious to take his difficulties to a higher court.

On October 24, 1902 he formulated a number of “Points for Counsel’s Opinion” arising from the Barron Will. Counsel responded at some length on 17 March 1903.

With regard to the vexed question of the appropriation of wall space on one wall of the church for the purpose of erecting tablets bearing inscriptions Counsel was of the opinion that this meant “the internal wall surface on one side….the Irish heir would be entitled to appropriate any portion or portions of this space to the erection of one or more tablet or tablets”. In the event, however, of an objectionable inscription being proposed “the Bishop, if aware of the intention to erect such a tablet would of course not permit its erection; and under such circumstances an injunction would not be granted to compel its being allowed to be erected”. The best way of ensuring compliance in this regard was “to have a short agreement or deed executed between the Most Rev. Dr. Brownrigg on the one part and the Trustees on the other” whereby “no inscription or mural tablet shall be placed in any part of the church or mausoleum without the previous approval in writing of the Bishop of Ossory for the time being”. Such agreement would not convey any “property ” rights to the Irish heir. This legal advice would seem to have set the Bishop’s mind at ease.

But the matter of the mausoleum was still extant. In particular the Bishop was concerned about the burial rights that would accrue to the Barron family as a result. Would the Bishop be entitled to bar a member of the Barron family who might have become Protestant from being buried therein? The opinion of legal counsel was that: “If the mausoleum be erected with the sanction of the Bishop he would …be bound to permit the remains of the Testator to be interred therein and (b) to permit several members of the Ballyneale branch of the Barron family as they die off to be interred in the mausoleum”.

The Bishop was in a ‘no win’ situation. He was under attack on several fronts. While the content and location of mural inscriptions were matters that pertained to the future (and could be taken care of as they arose) the mausoleum issue had to be settled right now before any building could get under way. £3,000 had been allocated for this part of the project and there was no way it could be written out of the script. Once in place members of the Barron family (Catholic or Protestant) had a legal right to be interred there should they so wish. While this legal advice would not have been to the Bishop’s liking, he was nevertheless conscious of the terms of the Will. The Trustees had absolute discretion in determining whether the conditions being imposed by Bishop were unreasonable or otherwise. Should they decide that such conditions were unreasonable they were then obliged to proceed with building the church and mausoleum nearby over which the Bishop would have absolutely no control. This was the very last thing any bishop would have wanted.

Getting around the ‘mausoleum issue’:

Having gone down the legal road as far as he could go, the Bishop now turned to his architect, Mr. Byrne. The final accommodation between the Bishop and the Trustees would seem to have drawn on a combination of the of legal advice already obtained and the skills of the two sets of architects working in unison. A gentlemanly agreement between the two sets of architects was obviously arrived at because on 12 April 1903 Bishop Brownrigg was able to write to the Trustees of Barron Will giving his sanction for the building of the present church:

With reference to the legacies of £6,000 and £3,000 given to you by said Will, the former being for the erection of a Catholic Church at Ferrybank, County Waterford, Ireland, according to the directions specified in clause 13 of the said Will, and the latter being for the erection of a mausoleum commemorative of the testator’s family as provided for by clause 14 of the said Will I the undersigned the Right Reverend Abraham Brownrigg, D.D., Bishop of Ossory, within whose diocese Ferrybank is situate hereby testify my sanction (as required by clause 13 of the said Will) for the erection of the said church and of the said mausoleum adjoining as directed by clause 14 of the said Will in accordance with the plans and specifications prepared by Mr. G. E. Ashlin, your architect, with such modifications thereof as you may from time to time in the course of construction find necessary and desirable, the said plans and specifications having for the purposes and identification been signed by him on your behalf and by Mr. Byrne as architect on my behalf.

Dated this 6th day of April 1903

+ Abraham Brownrigg,

Bishop of Ossory.

The document carrying the bishop’s sanction for the building of the new church is remarkable for its brevity and generality. There is no reference to the appropriation of wall space for plaques or monuments. It would appear that the two sets of architects worked to a suitable plan and specification to which both the Bishop and the Trustees were able to agree. They were empowered to make the necessary modifications as might be deemed necessary during the course of the construction. The mausoleum would seem to have been accommodated through the inclusion of a special stone-vaulted chapel in the right-hand corner of the church which is presently the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. According to Jeremy Williams this “stone vaulted chapel alongside the chancel with its floor of restrained abstract mosaic and delicately stoned glass” is “a miniature version of Myshall” Co. Carlow. Underneath the stone-vaulted chapel is a purpose-built vault or burial place but no member of the Barron family would ever seem to have been buried there. In the architect’s plans the revised design for the floor of the mausoleum is dated May 1908 and the details of the shelves to the mausoleum, July 1911.

The only commemorative plaque to the H. P. T. Barron is neatly tucked away in an alcove in what used to be the baptistery on the left as one enters the church. It was re-located there from the mausoleum by Father McGrath in the post-Vatican II alterations of the church. The monument is certainly less conspicuous and more impressive aesthetically than the one to his father in St. John’sChurch, Waterford. It bears the exact inscription as specified in the Will.

Why no member of the Barron family should ever seem to have been buried in the mausoleum is not clear. After all much time and effort had been expended in trying to meet the terms of the Barron Will with regard to it. The oral tradition in Ferrybank proffers its own explanation. The story is told that when Dr. Brownrigg was ready to proceed with the consecration of the new church a messenger arrived from the Irish heir of the Barron family requesting that the ceremony be delayed for half an hour late so that he might be present. The Bishop ignored the plea and started at the pre-arranged time. The Barron representatives were so incensed by this indignity that they vowed to have nothing further to do with the church. Whether the story is true or apocryphal we may never know.

Surrender of Grave Spaces:

When it became apparent that the new church was going to be built it was necessary that those who owning graves or burial rights on the east side adjacent to the old church would surrender such space in part or in whole as not to impede the development. In all about fifteen families were affected. Father Thomas Brophy, C.C. approached each of the families in turn and obtained their consent. He informed Bishop Brownrigg of same by letter on 16 March 1903. Among those affected were the following or their representatives:

John & Ellen Fitzpatrick, Newrath,

Edward Phelan, 4 Sion Row,

Walter Walsh, Hennessey’s Road,

Michael & Margaret Shalloe, The Quay, Waterford,

John Hicks, Ferrybank & Mrs. Martin Phelan, Ferrybank,

George Harper, Rockshire Road, Ferrybank,

Ellen Fitzpatrick, Sallypark & Edward Phelan, 4 Sion Row,

P. Nolan, 9 Sion Row,

Thomas Walsh, 5 St. Ignatius Street,

M. Phelan, Ferrybank,

In several cases all that was surrendered was 12-18 inches leading one to suspect that the old church occupied more or less the same space as the present one.

The coast was now clear for the Bishop to issue his sanction. All hurdles had been cleared. The work of taking down the old church began a few months later, or as Carrigan relates in the early Summer of 1903. The motto of the Barron family “audaces fortuna juvat” (fortune favours the bold) might well be applied not only to the family to which it belongs but indeed to all who played a part in ensuring that the conditions of the Barron Will would not prove insurmountable. Credit is due in particular to Bishop Abraham Brownrigg who navigated his way through a legal minefield and secured for Ferrybank an aesthetic masterpiece – the Church of the Sacred Heart.