Belfast Telegraph

Julie Parsons set out to investigate why Church of Ireland parish in Dublin disappeared and uncovered tale of prejudice and even murder

Her grandfather was rector at Mariners' Church in Dun Laoghaire but that Church of Ireland population has almost disappeared. Crime writer Julie Parsons set out to discover what happened to the people of the parish.

Family affair: Dun Laoghaire parishioners Ethel and Rowland Crossley on their wedding day
Family affair: Dun Laoghaire parishioners Ethel and Rowland Crossley on their wedding day
Fond memories: Julie Parsons

By Julie Parsons

When I was a little girl I lived in New Zealand in a house by the sea. My parents had emigrated to New Zealand in the dark days of 1947. Both my mother and my father had taken part in the Second World War. My mother had joined the WRNS, the Women's Royal Naval Service, and my father, Andy, from Greystones, was a doctor in the British Army. He was awarded the Military Cross for bravery, but was badly wounded and never fully recovered.

The Ireland they came home to was a bleak and hopeless place. Their wartime experiences had set them apart from those who honoured Ireland's neutrality.

The dark blue Pacific claimed my father in 1955 when I was four. A mystery, his body never found. My mother was forced to stay in New Zealand for seven more years until he could be declared dead.

In 1963, when the seven years were over, we returned to Ireland. It was still my mother's home, but it wasn't ours. Secular New Zealand was no preparation for Catholic Ireland. The bells proclaiming the Angelus three times a day. Holy statues everywhere. Crucifixes, Sacred Hearts, the Virgin Mary with her blue robes and crown of stars. The Mariners' Parish in Dun Laoghaire had dwindled to a handful and soon the church would close.

My mother still talked of the "old days" when life was good in Kingstown. But it was easy to see what the census figures confirm. The Church of Ireland population had dropped dramatically in Ireland from nearly a quarter of a million in 1911, to just over a hundred thousand in 1961. I began to wonder: What had happened to the people of the Mariners' Parish? Where did they go?

I was determined to find out.

I made my way to the Representative Church Body library in Churchtown, where hundreds of parish records are kept.

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There I found 48 families who, between the years 1900 and 1939, had got married in the Mariners and had their children christened there too. These, I decided, were my Mariners' Families and these were the people whose lives I wanted to trace.

As I poked around in what were described as the parish's "loose papers", I found something else as well. A description in the parish magazine dated June 1916, of the arrival of the troops who came to put down the Easter Rising; the Kingstown people, rich and poor, vied with each other in trying to make the troops comfortable and showing them every possible kindness.

Many of the men had come over at such short notice minus their kit bags and their pay and it well behoved us to come to their help in their hour of need... Miss Bell and Mrs Mitchell organised a tea for some 250 of the troops in the Royal Marine Hotel and it was gratefully appreciated... our company of the Boys Brigade and the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides were most useful in running messages, etc all through the crisis.

Fond memories: Julie Parsons
Fond memories: Julie Parsons

A different world, this world of the Mariners' Parish 100 years ago. So what more might my Mariners' Families tell me?

But first of all, how to find them. I picked up the phone book and there I found many of the names of my chosen families and I wrote to them.

There was a deluge of replies. Most were from people who had no connection with the Mariners. And many described a situation which I realised was extremely significant.

Some explained that, because of marrying a Catholic, the family had divided.

As I found more of the Mariners' families - some still living locally, others who had emigrated - the importance of the Ne Temere decree, issued by the Roman Catholic church in 1907, became clear. Ne Temere was an attempt to regulate marriages between Catholics and non-Catholics. Permission to marry was needed from a priest and the non-Catholic partner was required to endeavour to raise any children from the marriage as Catholics. Many Protestants considered this a coercive measure. It had a huge effect on their lives and the choices they made.

As one woman told me: "You'd only go to the dances organised by the Church of Ireland or Methodist, Presbyterian... it wasn't that long after Ireland became independent and the Protestant community here was very fearful for a long time."

Another woman put it this way: "My own sister, she was doing a line with a very nice Catholic fellow... and they went out for two years and then, of course, at that time it was a terrible thing for a Catholic to marry a Protestant, so they broke it off. It just wasn't on."

Another woman who married a Catholic told me that her own family were accepting of it, but her husband's were not happy. She described how her children when they were born were all, as she put it, "whipped off straight away to be baptised and, of course, I was the worst eejit when I think back".

My family was not immune to the effect of Ne Temere. My mother had told us that when she was a teenager she had fallen in love with a boy who was a Catholic. Her mother took a strong line. She was forbidden to see him. The young lovers wrote to each other, but his letters had to be sent secretly to her best friend.

So what had happened to my families when Ireland became independent, what did their parents and grandparents make of it?

One respondent said to me: "There was talk of times before Ireland gained independence and how good things were under English rule for the Church of Ireland community... I feel that my parents' generation kept a Union Jack in the attic in case things might change back to the 'good old days'."

The late Audrey Drakeford, nee Stephens, widow of Bill Drakeford, from Clarinda Park, said referring to 1916: "I remember my mother saying that when the Rising started most people regarded the guys in the Rising as a lot of gangsters. They really had no respect for them and they didn't want to have anything to do with it and then, later on, when the British took all the ringleaders and shot them, when they did that it was the biggest mistake they ever made."

But the Monsells, of Mulgrave Terrace, noticed it. In 1904 Clarendon Monsell married Maud Neville in the Mariners' Church. They had four children, all christened there too: Clarendon, William, Fortescue and Meriel. Clarendon senior was a civil servant. In 1925, after independence and the civil war, the Monsells, Maud's family, the Nevilles from Bray and their friends the Crawleys, linen people from Rostrevor, decided to leave Ireland.

According to Fortescue Monsell, his father was determined to remain loyal to the British Government and he refused to work for the rebels. He was therefore forced to retire early on a reduced pension.

They moved to Muswell Hill in London, where Clarendon got a job in the British civil service.

Of course many of the Mariners' people emigrated, like my parents, for the same reasons as their Catholic neighbours - lack of opportunity, lack of work, escaping from a society which was inward looking and whose economy could no longer support them. But there was one woman who left because Catholic Ireland couldn't give her what she wanted.

In 1918 Ethel Knight, from Crofton Road, married Rowland Crossley, a sergeant in the Signals Corps of the British Army based in Dublin. They had four children but this was a marriage which was unhappy in the extreme, so unhappy that Ethel could bear it no longer. She wanted a divorce.

Divorce was technically legal in 1935 but, within two years, De Valera's constitution would ban it outright.

Ethel wasn't going to be forced to stay in her unhappy marriage. So, in 1935, she and her children, the oldest aged 15 and the youngest aged four, took the mail boat and went to London. She knew no one there, had nowhere to live and no means of support.

Her late daughter, Liz Whitehouse, told me their story.

When they got off the train in Euston station, each child holding a suitcase, they didn't know where to go. Ethel walked the streets until she found a flat. But what were they to live on? Ethel was very musical and could play the piano well. So she went from pub to pub, until she got a job as a pub pianist. When war came in 1939 she still did not go back to Dun Laoghaire. As the Blitz raged across London, the family was bombed out of four flats. Liz and her brother were evacuated to the countryside. It was hard and often the families who took them in did not treat them well. But they survived. And Ethel had never been so busy. As Liz said, "the phone never stopped ringing. Everyone was having parties and they all wanted Mum to play for them. You never knew when it'd be your turn to die."

Some of the Mariners' families didn't go to the ends of the earth the way my parents did. They just went up the road to Northern Ireland. Like Alan Knight, who graduated from Trinity College in 1954 and went to live there soon afterwards.

Alan told me the story of his grandfather, Andrew. He lived in Clarinda Park with wife Lily and their four children, Richard, Herbert, Albert and Florrie. On July 7, 1921, Andrew, an inspector on the Dalkey tram, was at work. Two men boarded his tram. They were followed by a policeman who asked Andrew who were his last passengers. Andrew pointed them out. The men were arrested as members of the IRA.

That evening Andrew didn't come home. Two days later, a boy herding cattle on Castlepark Road outside Dalkey village found a man's body under a hedge. He was wearing the uniform of tram inspector. He had been shot through the jaw.

A statement made to the Bureau of Military History by Patrick Mannix, of the IRA, alleged that Andrew Knight was a very active anti-IRA man, supplying information about IRA activities to the British Military.

Alan Knight said his grandfather was a loyalist, but not an informer. After Andrew's death, his neighbours and in-laws, Edwin and Annie Farrell, left Dun Laoghaire immediately and went to Belfast.

It is easy to imagine the shock and fear that reverberated through the small tightly-knit Church of Ireland community which lived then in Dun Laoghaire's streets and squares and who worshipped in the Mariners.

The Mariners' Church is now the Maritime Museum. It has its place in modern-day Dun Laoghaire. Its people are scattered across the world, but some still live locally. They remember Canon Chamberlain and his family with affection. They also remember their way of life - the church, the school next door, the dances where they went to meet their own kind, those whom they could safely marry. It is a way of life which has now largely disappeared.

Julie's new thriller The Therapy House will be published next spring

Belfast Telegraph


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