Wednesday, February 18, 2015

BEFORE I finally release you from my most recent obsession with William Wilson’s Post-Chaise Companion, specifically, his list of subscribers, I feel I must tell you about the Rev Mervyn Archdall.

In truth, if this reverend gentleman didn’t have any Laois connection, he would still be worthy of mention on foot of his being a founding member of the Royal Irish Academy. Nor was he any ordinary founding member, if there were such a being. The Rev Mervyn Archdall, often described as an eminent antiquarian and genealogist, was exactly the type of member this new academy was trying to attract.

In 1786, the very year the Royal Irish Academy received its royal charter, Rev Mervyn Archdall published his Monasticum Hibernicum. This history of abbeys, priories and other religious houses spanned two volumes and was a kind of gazetteer, drawn from a compendium of information. The jury is out on the true academic worth of this work, though the final product is thought to have been considerably abridged from the material which the Rev Archdall had amassed over a period of 40 years.

As a genealogist, Archdall revised and updated The Peerage of Ireland, which had first been published in four volumes in 1854. The author of that earlier publication was John Lodge Esq. Lodge’s work was a comprehensive examination of the nobility of the day, and Archdall’s revision of 1789 expanded John Lodge’s original four volumes to a very meaty document of seven volumes.

The revised version is often, like the original, referred to as Lodge’s Peerage of Ireland. Indeed, John Lodge Esq, though he died in 1774, is equally acknowledged with the Rev Archdall as author in the 1789 revision.

In due course, I will share some of the detail contained in Lodge’s very early record of The Peerage of Ireland, though I think it may be some time before I manage to unravel and make sense of a sometimes complicated tangle.

I did make reference earlier to a Laois connection with the Rev Mervyn Archdall, and a very cursory examination reveals that during the early years of his ministry, he spent some time as Rector of Attannagh. Normally, I might leave it at that, were it not for the fact that the Taylor and Skinner maps of 1778 reflect Archdall landholdings not far from Portarlington, something which I could not ignore.

This landed connection has led me to a Colonel Mervyn Archdall, who married a Mary Dawson. As I began sifting through the layers of family history, it would be fair to say that I was led a merry dance as I tried to draw the connecting line between the esteemed antiquarian, Rev Mervyn Archdall, and his namesake, the colonel.

In the first instance, Mary Dawson, as I suspected, is connected with the Earl of Portarlington. Her father was William Dawson, 1st Viscount Carlow, whose son succeeded to his estates and was later created 1st Earl of Portarlington.

Here I have to restrain myself from getting side-tracked and following Mary Dawson’s marriage to Colonel Mervyn Archdall. Given that they had 12 children, I would be here ’til Christmas if I tried to unravel the connections that ensued.

As for Colonel Archdall’s connection back to the Rev Mervyn, that is not quite so straightforward. But, simply put, both the Rev Mervyn and Colonel Mervyn can trace their respective family lines back to a common ancestor, who came to Ireland in the reign of Elizabeth I.

That original ancestor settled in County Fermanagh and, 400 years ago this year, built Old Castle Archdale. That premises did not survive the ravages of the 1641 rebellion.

A descendent commenced the building of the new Castle Archdale in 1773, the same year the de Vescis were building Abbey Leix and Fredrick Trench was building Heywood.

Little remains of the original Castle Archdale estate, and today, in the environs where the mansion once stood, Castle Archdale Country Park is an amenity area operated by the Northern Ireland environment agency.

There are further Archdall connections to the Heath and the Heath races, and further connections between Laois and County Fermanagh.

But I think it might be a mercy if we unshackled the horses from William Wilson’s Post Chaise for the moment and put them out to grass … for a while, at least.

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By Tom Cox
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